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Author Topic: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013  (Read 28485 times)

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #90 on: July 13, 2013, 02:02:12 AM »
Friday July 12, 2013      Day 45

Another perfect day, sunshine, blue sky, light winds, a few whitecaps on the bay. Sat and wrote, read books, hung out until 2:30. Saw eagles on beach.

Breakfast was a one-pan deal of sautéed (frozen) chicken maple sausages that I had brought from home, fried in a tiny bit of butter until browned and crispy on the outside, then cut into half-inch slices and covered with 4 beaten eggs, covered and set on low til cooked through. Turned out very puffy and delicious, crispy and browned on the bottom. Accompanied by a toasted piece of sunflower-oat bread purchased at Two Sisters Bakery yesterday. A mighty fine breakfast and a good way to finish off some of our food.

I brought along on this trip 4 packages of those frozen chicken-maple sausages, and they’ve sure made wonderful meals. Extremely tasty little guys. They stay frozen really well in our RV’s freezer, too.

When we left the RV park to head for town, we both saw a low-flying large object as we drove north on Homer Spit. We both thought it was a plane at first, coming in for a landing as it headed in our direction…though this was a mighty strange place for a plane to be landing! Nope, a very large golden eagle, swooping very close to us. Nature at its best here in Homer. I’m almost beginning to take golden eagles for granted!

Two Sisters Bakery is an outstanding place here in Homer. Everything in the bakery cases was different today from yesterday. Don had an excellent oatmeal raising cookie, I ordered a decadent-looking sticky bun, which turned out to be about the best sticky bun I’d ever eaten. And great coffee. We met one of the owners as she was deadheading plants in the hanging baskets all around the porches, and told her what a wonderful business she runs. A transplant from Pennsylvania, she’s been running Two Sisters for 21 years.

We sat on the Two Sisters porch and watched the world go by. Just drifting, drifting, and floating…enjoying watching the people around us. Kids playing in the yard of pea-gravel, loading the trucks with gravel and then dumping them. Reloading, dumping. Reloading, dumping. Remember those days?

I made a reservation for Sunday night at the Kenai Princess RV Park in Cooper Landing, on our way to Whittier for the ferry on Monday. Wanted to make sure we had a place to stay on our way north.

We walked to the end of the road where Two Sisters Bakery is located, and walked on Bishop’s Beach for quite a while. Very blustery and quite chilly. People can drive their cars and trucks right out onto the beach and park on top of the storm berm. When the tide is out, that is. Most of them haul ATVs with them, on trailers or in the backs of their trucks. They drive ATVs all up and down the wide, rocky beachfront. We watched as one guy unloaded 2 ATVs and took off on his larger one holding his little blond-headed 3 yr old daughter on his lap, while racing and bouncing alongside him was a mini-ATV being driven by his 6-7 yr old son being jounced around as they paralleled their way up the stony beach. This beach is completely open to the winds off Cook Inlet, and to the massive numbers of rocks and stones being washed ashore. Piles and piles of them, miles and miles of them.

My stepsister Jana would love this beach open to Cook Inlet because it’s loaded with piles of gorgeous, graceful strands of seaweed and kelp, and huge leaves of underwater plants that she softens, then cuts and shapes and weaves into fabulously creative baskets and artifacts, for sale at craft fairs.

Back in the Rollin Home, Don instantly fell asleep while I read more of Michener, racing toward the end. Gangs of people from town arrived for an after-work cookout and wine party at the covered picnic spot near the beach. They were having a rollicking good time.

I suggested we drive to the local Elks Lodge about 3 blocks away to have a beer & wine and meet some more locals who might be there. The 2-story lodge is large and faces onto Cook Inlet…a simply gorgeous location! It has a large lawn and is on a beautiful piece of property. And what a view! Across the water are the jaggedy Chigmit Mountains at the north end of the Aleutian Range, with all the big glaciers very visible, especially from the big deck on the top floor. About 15 people were at the bar, and maybe another 20 ofr so were having dinner. We talked with a few people, had a nice time. Decided not to stay for dinner…have to empty our refrigerator!

Don drove out to the end of Homer Spit again, just for the heck of it. We parked and walked for a while, past a bunch of fish processing plants, out toward the ferry dock and Land’s End. Though it’s Friday night and things ostensibly get really busy here at Homer Spit on weekends during the summer months, it sure wasn’t busy out there tonight. It was virtually deserted, in fact. We found a local ice cream place and bought an ice cream…oh, good, they had pralines & cream, my favorite! Don had Death by Chocolate, so his ears will ring all night from the caffeine and he’ll complain about it!

While eating our ice cream, we struck up a conversation with a couple from Boise, Idaho who are up here with their 5th wheel trailer. We spoke with them at length. Then as we were leaving, a man & woman were looking at our RV as we got close. We told them all about our Rollin Home, and learned they were from Traverse City, Michigan, traveling in a truck camper parked a few feet away from our parking spot. Turns out they both taught school for years and years in Grand Rapids and lived on the west side of the city, close to where I grew up. Both of them are German, too. We had such fun talking about our trips, our families, about Michigan, about GR, about everything. Ted and Dottie Meier.

End of day. Home. Sun is still shining. It’s 10 pm already. We’ve had lots of wind in our hair today during our walks. We’ll sleep well tonight!
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #91 on: July 14, 2013, 01:37:15 AM »
Saturday July 13, 2013      Day 46

I am utterly exhausted after taking a loooooooong walk in late afternoon / early evening along the Homer Spit, north towards the town of Homer. Each time we’ve driven out onto the Spit we’ve passed a couple of “boat boneyards” where fishermen have abandoned their old wooden fishing boats from eras gone by. They sit at tip-tilted angles, paint peeling off old rotted hulls, windows broken out, old cables and lines left in their sterns to decay along with the aged tools of the seamen.

They sit alongside a small lagoon that is a mudhole at low tide, but would float a boat at high tide. Some boats are on old rusted trailers, some on rotted cradles, some simply propped up on rotted blocks of wood. Each one murmurs that it has a complicated, interesting history…the stuff of novels, no doubt.

One small fishing boat in particular fascinates me. It harkens back to an age long gone, built maybe in the 1920s or thereabouts: Its name is Virginis and it is about 25 feet long, has a very narrow beam (width) of only about 5 or 6 feet, with a red-painted hull of fine wood lapstrake, topped by a very nice white, quite tall pilot house that nearly fills her hull bow to stern and port to starboard, leaving only enough space on deck for the width of one man’s foot to scramble to the bow when necessary. It carries tall wooden spars either side of the pilot house, with ropes and pulleys and halyards attached to them – she was a shrimper or a fish-netter back in the day, I’d bet. She’s built for just 2 men, a captain and one crew member. Somebody has using her as recently as the 1970s, looks like, because there is a fairly modern radar scope attached to the top of the pilot house. No room for anyone else. Did her owner die? Did her owner build this lovely little boat himself or have her built custom? Was it someone’s life dream to own a boat of these dimensions and design? Did he go broke and have to give her up at some point? Or did he simply grow old and all the kids left home and moved to the big cities (or abandoned Alaska entirely) so no one was left to go out fishing with the old man?

That was the end of my day. The boneyard. Taking pictures, walking in the salt air and strong breezes. A gorgeous day.

The Homer Farmer’s Market on Saturdays is quite good. Probably 50-60 vendors, many selling gigantic, luscious homegrown vegetables, a few selling spectacular baked goods, two selling jarred and canned and smoked salmon, the rest crafts of various kinds, everything from soaps to aromatherapy junk to the usual jewelry and tote bags. Because we’re going on the ferry in 2 days, I didn’t dare to buy any veggies. I did buy a couple of hand-crocheted dishrags, though, for $4…I love those things! And I bought a fresh rhubarb sour cream streusel coffee cake for tomorrow morning and Monday morning from a very demure Amish girl. Couldn’t resist.

We drove out East End Road in Homer, almost to the end, having heard of some interesting stuff out there. Not a place many tourists go, apparently, but quite a great ride. The road climbs along a ridge as it heads north to the far end of Kachemak Bay. At the very end is an old Russian village, but a Homer guide warned us not to drive all the way to the end because the final descent into the valley is extremely steep and the road is unimproved. Darn. The views across the bay toward the Chigmit Mountains and the Aleutian Range, with about a dozen huge glaciers in clear sight, are spectacular. And because of our height toward the north end of the bay, we could see down to where Seldovia and Halibut Cove are located, as well as the inlets of Kachemak Bay State Park and Katmai National Park & Preserve. Much oohing and aahing.

Guess where we went next? You guessed it…back into town to Two Sisters Bakery and Coffee Shop! For the 3rd day in a row. We really like hanging out there! The place was buzzing with weekend business. As before, we chatted with some locals, and then started up a conversation with a retired couple at the adjoining table and learned they had just yesterday bought an RV quite similar to ours, but were mystified about how some things on it were supposed to work. They live just a bit north of Homer, in Ninilchik, and had come down to camp for the weekend to break in their new toy. After much discussion of theirs, ours, and so on, Don took them on a tour of our Rollin Home, then went with them to their unit and tried to show them how some things worked. They never were able to figure out how the awning works, so they’ll have to visit Anchorage’s Winnebago dealer to have everything checked out and put in working order.

There’s a good carwash place along the main road here, so we stopped and gave the buggy a good washing, which it badly needed. I do the high-power spray to start, then Don scrubs with the brush, then I return with the high-power spray some more. We had to put in enough quarters for 3 full cycles of washes. The RH looks gorgeous and shiny now!

After returning to our RV park and settling into our spot (we have to drive our Rollin Home up onto stacks of 3 large-size Lego-style “blocks” to get us level), Don went walking while I was reading Michener and fell fast asleep for an hour. Then we both went walking to the boat boneyard. I was practically ready for the boneyard by the time we returned from our 4-5 mile walk along the shoreline of the spit. Could hardly get dinner ready before collapsing.

I’ll sleep well tonight! Tomorrow we head north again, stopping at Timberline Creations for Michael Lettis’s pendant; then at Ninilchik to browse through a good store called The Peddler where Catherine whom I met today has some of her artwork for sale; then at Soldotna for some jugs of water; then to Cooper Landing where we are staying for the night at the Kenai Princess RV Park right on the Kenai River, at the confluence of Kenai Lake and the Kenai River.

To allay Don’s anxieties about all the ferry legs we’re doing starting Monday night out of Whittier, we went over all of the dates and times of ferry trips and where we’re staying from here on out. Basically the next phase of our Alaska Adventure consists of a month weaving our way through what Alaskans call The Southeast, or what most of us know as The Inside Passage. It should be tons of fun! Lots of boat rides, lots of really nifty things planed. Maybe we’ll even get to see a moose in Alaska yet!

We saw “our” golden eagle about 6 times today, once flying practically alongside us at door-handle level as we drove toward town this morning for the Farmer’s Market. He hangs around out here most of the time, it seems, and has perhaps staked out the territory near the RV park here as his own. He often sits atop the tall pole out in front of the RV park office. And he perches atop the tall light post just north of here by the Marine Terminal. And on our way back from our walk tonight, he sat atop a tall crane at the Marine Terminal, just lookin around and having a good ol time.

Homer is a super place. I could live in this town happily. We both like it a lot. Not a big place, not a lot happening, but a very nice comfortable spot on the map. We learned that Homer is a bit of a Banana Belt in Alaska…temperatures here in the winter are often more moderate than, say, in Anchor Point only 15 miles away. What that means is it might be zero here, but 15 below zero in Anchor Point. Not warm, but a bit less cold than elsewhere. And summer weather here is just perfect – almost always a slightly cool edge to the air, so it’s never hot hot.

G’night all.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

Henry Wishard

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #92 on: July 16, 2013, 02:22:45 AM »
   We have been in Homer the past 3 days and sorry we keep missing you guys. We will be leaving Tuesday morning for Cooper Landing. For the third time staying at Princess RV Park for 5 or 6 days.
Henry & Margaret Wishard
12625 Lake Vista Dr
Willis, Texas 77318
2017 Tiffin Open Road

2012 Jeep Rubicon

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #93 on: July 22, 2013, 01:39:12 PM »
Saturday July 13, 2013      Day 46

I am utterly exhausted after taking a loooooooong walk in late afternoon / early evening along the Homer Spit, north towards the town of Homer. Each time we’ve driven out onto the Spit we’ve passed a couple of “boat boneyards” where fishermen have abandoned their old wooden fishing boats from eras gone by. They sit at tip-tilted angles, paint peeling off old rotted hulls, windows broken out, old cables and lines left in their sterns to decay along with the aged tools of the seamen.

They sit alongside a small lagoon that is a mudhole at low tide, but would float a boat at high tide. Some boats are on old rusted trailers, some on rotted cradles, some simply propped up on rotted blocks of wood. Each one murmurs that it has a complicated, interesting history…the stuff of novels, no doubt.

One small fishing boat in particular fascinates me. It harkens back to an age long gone, built maybe in the 1920s or thereabouts: Its name is Virginis and it is about 25 feet long, has a very narrow beam (width) of only about 5 or 6 feet, with a red-painted hull of fine wood lapstrake, topped by a very nice white, quite tall pilot house that nearly fills her hull bow to stern and port to starboard, leaving only enough space on deck for the width of one man’s foot to scramble to the bow when necessary. It carries tall wooden spars either side of the pilot house, with ropes and pulleys and halyards attached to them – she was a shrimper or a fish-netter back in the day, I’d bet. She’s built for just 2 men, a captain and one crew member. Somebody has using her as recently as the 1970s, looks like, because there is a fairly modern radar scope attached to the top of the pilot house. No room for anyone else. Did her owner die? Did her owner build this lovely little boat himself or have her built custom? Was it someone’s life dream to own a boat of these dimensions and design? Did he go broke and have to give her up at some point? Or did he simply grow old and all the kids left home and moved to the bigger towns or cities (or abandoned Alaska entirely) so no one was left to go out fishing with the old man? Makes for such interesting speculation.

That was the end of my day. The boneyard. Taking pictures. Walking in the salt air and strong breezes. A gorgeous day.

The Homer Farmer’s Market on Saturdays is quite good. Probably 30-40 vendors, many selling gigantic, luscious homegrown vegetables, a few selling spectacular baked goods, two selling jarred and canned and smoked salmon, the rest crafts of various kinds, everything from soaps to aromatherapy junk to the usual jewelry and tote bags. Because we’re going on the ferry in 2 days, I didn’t dare to buy any veggies. I did buy a couple of hand-crocheted dishrags, though, for $4…I love those things! And I bought a fresh rhubarb sour cream streusel coffee cake for tomorrow morning and Monday morning from a very demure Amish girl. Couldn’t resist.

We drove out East End Road in Homer, almost to the end, having heard of some interesting stuff out there. Not a place many tourists go, apparently, but quite a great ride. The road climbs along a ridge as it heads north to the far end of Kachemak Bay. At the very end is an old Russian village, but a Homer guide warned us not to drive all the way to the end because the final descent into the valley is extremely steep and the road is unimproved. Darn. The views across the bay toward the Chigmit Mountains and the Aleutian Range, with about a dozen huge glaciers in clear sight, are spectacular. And because of our height toward the north end of the bay, we could see down to where Seldovia and Halibut Cove are located, as well as the inlets of Kachemak Bay State Park and Katmai National Park & Preserve. Much oohing and aahing.

Guess where we went next? You guessed it…back into town to Two Sisters Bakery and Coffee Shop! For the 3rd day in a row. We really like hanging out there! The place was buzzing with weekend business. As before, we chatted with some locals, and then started up a conversation with a retired couple at the adjoining table and learned they had just yesterday bought an RV quite similar to ours, but were mystified about how some things on it were supposed to work. They live just a bit north of Homer, in Ninilchik, and had come down to camp for the weekend to break in their new toy. After much discussion of theirs, ours, and so on, Don took them on a tour of our Rollin Home, then went with them to their unit and tried to show them how some things worked. They never were able to figure out how the awning works, so they’ll have to visit Anchorage’s Winnebago dealer to have everything checked out and put in working order.

There’s a good carwash place along the main road here, so we stopped and gave the buggy a good washing, which it badly needed. I do the high-power spray to start, then Don scrubs with the brush, then I return with the high-power spray some more. We had to put in enough quarters for 3 full cycles of washes. The RH looks gorgeous and shiny now!

After returning to our RV park and settling into our spot (we have to drive our Rollin Home up onto stacks of 3 large-size Lego-style “blocks” to get us level), Don went walking while I was reading Michener and fell fast asleep for an hour. Then we both went walking to the boat boneyard. I was practically ready for the boneyard by the time we returned from our 4-5 mile walk along the shoreline of the spit. Could hardly get dinner ready before collapsing.

I’ll sleep well tonight! Tomorrow we head north again, stopping at Timberline Creations for Michael Lettis’s pendant; then at Ninilchik to browse through a good store called The Peddler where Catherine whom I met today has some of her artwork for sale; then at Soldotna for some jugs of water; then to Cooper Landing where we are staying for the night at the Kenai Princess RV Park right on the Kenai River, at the confluence of Kenai Lake and the Kenai River.

To allay Don’s anxieties about all the ferry legs we’re doing starting Monday night out of Whittier, we went over all of the dates and times of ferry trips and where we’re staying from here on out. Basically the next phase of our Alaska Adventure consists of a month weaving our way through what Alaskans call The Southeast, or what most of us know as The Inside Passage. It should be tons of fun! Lots of boat rides, lots of really nifty things planed. Maybe we’ll even get to see a moose in Alaska yet!

We saw “our” golden eagle about 6 times today, once flying practically alongside us at door-handle level as we drove toward town this morning for the Farmer’s Market. He hangs around out here most of the time, it seems, and has perhaps staked out the territory near the RV park here as his own. He often sits atop the tall pole out in front of the RV park office. And he perches atop the tall light post just north of here by the Marine Terminal. And on our way back from our walk tonight, he sat atop a tall crane at the Marine Terminal, just lookin around and having a good ol time.

Homer is a super place. I could live in this town happily. We both like it a lot. Not a big place, not a lot happening, but a very nice comfortable spot on the map. We learned that Homer is a bit of a Banana Belt in Alaska…temperatures here in the winter are often more moderate than, say, in Anchor Point only 15 miles away. What that means is it might be zero here, but 15 below zero in Anchor Point. Not warm, but a bit less cold than elsewhere. And summer weather here is just perfect – almost always a slightly cool edge to the air, so it’s never hot hot.

G’night all.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #94 on: July 22, 2013, 01:41:00 PM »
Sunday July 14, 2013      Day 47

I was actually sad to leave Homer. I love the town, and the feel of the sea on both sides out on the Homer Spit. Very much my big-water fix, with hundreds of gulls screeching and gliding in circles, lots of interesting “stuff” rolling up onto the beaches at high tide for good beachcombing later on, and the sound of waves lapping…in the case of Homer, a loud sound since the sea-bottom consists of gazillions of tiny rocks being tossed and pushed by currents and waves, back and forth, back and forth. The rivers, streams, creeks and big bodies of water up here are SO rocky that the sounds of water flowing and waves lapping on the shore are virtual rumbles. You can even feel the sound of the moving rocks in the water down in the pit of your stomach.

We heard it again tonight while standing far far above the fast-moving Kenai River, on n observation deck at the Kenai Princess Lodge. Yes, you know it’s water, flowing, but you can also hear the low-pitched rumble of many underlying rocks being pushed by the water. Very interesting, and quite different from the mild sound of flowing riverwater in other parts of the world.

We’re here at the Kenai Princess Lodge and RV Park, Cooper Landing AK, for the night. Cooper Landing is world famous, because it is positioned at the confluence of the spectacular salmon & trout fishing river, the Kenai, and the Russian River. Also at a point just up the road a mile or so from where we are parked, the wide, deep, fast turquoise-hued Kenai river joins with the upper part of Kenai Lake, a very large, long body of big-water where we head the fishing is also spectacular during the “runs”. This is a very small park of only 30 RV sites, and although we’re parked close together, there’s lots of grass and we’re surrounded 360 by dense forests, with big views of high mountains at each end of the park. Can’t complain about this…almost too picturesque for words. Very good value, too, at $36.50 for the night, for full hookups and wonderful bathrooms. (The Kenai Princess Lodge and this park are owned by the Princess Cruise line…the hired help at the lodge live here during the summers in the RV park in their campers and in a string of cabins at one end of the park. Very smart plan by Princess Cruises since this is quite an isolated area of Alaska and the labor pool is thin.)

Our drive from Homer to Cooper Landing occurred in spurts of short trips, with lots of stops on the way…too many stops in Don’s book! First we stopped at Timberline Creations for me to see the new caribou antler carvings Mike Pettis had done since I was there. Yes, I gave in to temptation! Mike’s wife Sandy was working the store this morning, watering her hanging baskets of lush fuschias. Then as we drove past a couple of ramshackle stores with “interesting” fronts on them, I asked Don to hook a U-ee and take me back for some pictures…they were the only “wilderness” places I’d seen so far that were unique in appearance…very Alaska, not like any storefronts you’d see anywhere else. Don thought one of the storefronts was just “junky and cluttered” and not worth pics; the second one, though, was a tiny log-cabin cubicle of a fly shop (you know, flies as in fly-fishing!) that was just too cute to believe…not cutesy-cloying, but rugged and hand-hewn and weathered. Looked as if it had been there since about 1915. Definitely worth some pics.

Traffic was very heavy headed north from Homer…people going home to Anchorage after being down in vacation-land fishing for the weekend, I suspect. Loads of cars with crazy drivers passing strings of campers and RVs on 2-lane roads despite everyone moving at about the speed limit of 55. Some locals who think they know the roads well enough apparently feel quite confident about passing other vehicles on hills, curves and other dangerous places. Oddly, the traffic headed south toward Homer was also remarkably heavy, because of the fishing season and the so-called “second run” that everyone is waiting for right now.

A view of Mt. Redoubt came into sight and we stopped twice at pullouts for pics of this gorgeous cone-shaped volcano far across the Cook Inlet, looking pale blue and pink in the morning haze, very much like the Japanese prints you see of Mt. Fuji. So beautiful I literally wanted to haul out my paints on the spot and sit right there to do a watery watercolor painting. But Don wanted to keep going, so we continued on.

Next we watched carefully for the little shop in Ninilchik called The Peddler that we heard about yesterday while talking with people who live in Ninilchik. Kathryn Kennedy wanted me to stop and see her watercolor paintings there. The shop’s sign is barely visible from the road, so at first we whizzed on by and I spotted it as we passed, so Don hooked a U-ee and returned, so I could amble through and look at “stuff.” Isn’t he sweet?

Great little shop, I must say… a real jumble of excellent quality gift items, native carvings, and fur/leather boots and slippers in a quaint old building. The Peddler represents about 20-30 local artisans who make a wide assortment of things, from needlework to paintings to photos to turned-wood bowls and some apparel items. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t in my “shopping mode” so I didn’t buy anything, but I would recommend the shop highly! They need a bigger sign that is far easier to see, so more people would stop, though. It’s directly across the Sterling Highway from A Fish Hunt fishing charter office, and right alongside the Ninilchik Community Library, a large gray steel building.

On to Soldotna, where we will stop at the Fred Meyer store for jugs of water and a new “basin” that will fit in my freezer to put the bag of ice in. On the way into Soldotna I want to go into one of the local campgrounds to walk along the town’s boardwalks bordering the Kenai River, to watch the salmon coming upriver and see the fishermen lining the banks trying to catch them. Quite a show and we want to see it. Well, I gotta tell ya, a million people were in Soldotna, and half of those were lined up on the narrow, gravel 2-lane road we turned onto to get into the Centennial Campground. Yikes! We sat and sat and sat…the line was moving very very very slowly. Most inefficient gate process we’ve ever seen! If there had been any way at all the turn around and make a dash out of there we would’ve done it, but the road was too narrow, bordered on either side by ditches and dense trees. When we finally got to the entry gate we said we were giving up and turning around and leaving…attendant was so happy to have an “easy” entrant that she grinned as said “Go for it!”

After exiting the park, we quickly saw that practically every car, truck, camper and RV we had seen on the road north was trying to turn into the Fred Meyer parking lot. Everybody loves Freddie’s, as they say here in the northland. Double yikes! We could see that if we simply went to the far entrance driveway, we’d whip right into the lot with nary a slowdown, so that’s what we did. And pulled into a nearby parking space that was just right for us. Thank goodness for this 25 footer, it fits into any space! I went in to find the jugs of water and a bin for the freezer, Don stayed home to guard the family jewels.

Met Lynette and Rick Merrill…both work on the North Slope. Loved our Rollin Home and came over to see it while I was in the store. They pulled in while Don was parking, and Lynette was doing sign language and waving madly at Don, and at Rick while he was driving; Don had no idea what she was indicating, but they quickly pulled into a parking spot and dashed over to our rig, and introduced themselves and began exclaiming that this was EXACTLY the kind of rig they’d been searching for, and wanted to know all about it. When I returned after shopping, there was a reg’lar party goin on!

Don had been talking up a storm with them for 25 minutes already. I invited Lynette inside to see the layout, storage, etc. She just loved everything. And believe me, we were both talking so fast we covered a WHOLE lot of ground before we finished with the tour. We talked with them for over an hour. Lynette and Rick live in Soldotna. Rick is Lynette’s 3rd husband; she moved to the teeny-tiny town of Glennallen from Ft. Lauderdale FL back in the 70s. Glennallen had a population of 60 and was very primitive then. Lynette hauled water from a well, used an outhouse. Talk about culture shock!! . She now has a “great job” keeping records for an oil co on the North Slope. Makes a ton of money. Rick is a materials engineer, also working at the North Slope, but on a completely different schedule from Lynette’s They both go there 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. Both are very intense, intelligent people. Lynette is clad in a sequined top, rhinestone-studded flipflops and a fancy belt…I can’t for the life of me picture her living in Glennallen hauling watr from a distant well in buckets to wash dishes and clothes.

After finishing our “meet new friends party,” we fill up with diesel at Freddie’s and drive to the Kenai Princess RV Park in Cooper Landing, where we’re parked alongside Mel and Linda Burrowes in their 5th wheel, whom we met in Anchorage at the Ship Creek RV Park. They’re from the east coast and have kids in Lakewood CO they’re visiting in early Sept…we might see them again then there. I took a bottle of cold chardonnay over, we all had happy hour together. Really fun sharing our funny stories about where we’d been and what all we’d done in each town we’ve visited.

After having crackers and Rondele cheese with Linda and Mel, we didn’t need much dinner, so we cut up an apple for sharing, then took a long walk before bed. Though this RV park is advertised as “riverside” it is hardly that! Lovely, yes, but not exactly “on the banks of the famous Kenai”…it sits far above the beautiful Kenai River partway up a mountain. The overlook decks give a great view of the roaring river far below. You can hear it, bit it’s hardly the nearby sound that lulls you to sleep.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #95 on: July 22, 2013, 01:43:38 PM »
Monday July 15, 2013      Day 48

On to Whittier this morning. We were uncertain as to whether we should drive into Whittier right away or kill a few hours along the way; we’d read that parking is extremely limited in Whittier, a tiny landlocked place with high mountains encircling the town and little flat area. Yet some friends had told us they loved Whittier, so we wanted to go in and walk around for a while. Hmmmm, what to do?

While driving there, we were in no hurry at all. For once, Don pulled off at virtually every vistapoint and camera opportunity. We watched birds, saw some eagles as well as sandhill cranes and swans and ducks. No moose, though we were in prime moose country and were on the road early. Before we knew it, we were at Portage for the turnoff to Whittier. Although we watched for a good pulloff to while away the hours reading and kill some more time before going into Whittier, the distances were much shorter than we thought and before we knew it we had already arrived at the Whittier Tunnel.

We left the Kenai Peninsula after 9 days seeing all 4 of the distinctly different parts of the peninsula. We just loved every bit of it! I could easily live in Seward, Kenai or Homer…great little towns! Small but not backwards, great mix of people in each place, friendly folks everywhere – cheechakos (newcomers) as well as sourdoughs (long-timers) -- and interesting weather patterns. We never got to see the “real” Kenai Fjords because of the overcast weather, rain and dense clouds at Seward that made a cruise out to the Kenai Fjords Natl Park worthless, but we’ll live. At least now Don has a sense of what fjords really are…high steep rocky and forested mountains rising directly from the ocean, creating narrow passageways and ethereal vistas. We’ll see a LOT more fjord-like areas as we cruise on the ferries on our 9 legs to the southeast and down the inside passage. So I’m not at all worried.

New adventures lie ahead. As we pondered our strategy for Whittier suddenly we were at the tollgate leading into the Whittier Tunnel. Oops! The one-lane tunnel would open for our passage through to the east, at 2:30; it was only 1:30 when we were there, so we hooked a U-ee and went for a quick lunch at the nearby “lodge”…ha! Hardly a lodge, more like a tourist ripoff spot with prepackaged (somewhat soggy) sandwiches for sale. Oh well. We split a sandwich and a coffee. Then drove through the tunnel at 2:30. 

The Whittier Tunnel is a railroad tunnel carved through a very large mountain. At more than 2 miles long, it is the longest tunnel in the US and one of the 3 longest in the world. A few years ago, the tunnel was “modified” so that it is now a 1-lane car/truck tunnel as well. Every half-hour a line of cars, RVs and trucks is allowed to go through, in one direction only. If there’s a train, it gets priority.

But the tunnel’s modification doesn’t mean it was turned into a real road! They left it “rustic,” perhaps for the tourists; most likely because of the enormous cost of building a concrete road alongside the train tracks…so, it consists of wide wooden planks set on either side of – and between – the railroad tracks. Instructions are to stay 100-150 feet away from other vehicles ahead of and behind you, and to go 25 mph. And the tunnel is black, wet, blasted rock overhead and alongside you…no fancy well-lit corrugated tunnel material added to cover the sharp, jagged and chiseled rocks of the mountain or prevent waterfalls in here! It’s black as pitch except for vehicle headlights, and absolutely running with water everywhere, rivers of it. Water drips on the windshield. Wheels and tires wobble and swerve as they move along the spaces between planks and join the railroad tracks at times. Surely one of the more interesting tunnel experiences of all time! The trip through the tunnel takes all of 6 ½ minutes if there are no stoppages or slowdowns.

My friend Linda wondered when we talked by phone several days later how it is that they don’t get lots of black mold forming in that tunnel, creating hazardous conditions. I wonder! It must be very slippery in there, given the water that constantly runs everywhere. Does somebody hose the tunnel down periodically with bleach? Or do they just let nature do its thing? I suspect the latter is true.

The City of Whittier is nearly a ghost town. Travel brochures say Whittier has “small coastal town charm” combined with fascinating WWII history. Hardly. It is grey, bland, devoid of any charm at all. Fishing and fish processing are the only things in Whittier any more. Takes maybe an hour to see everything there is to see. Big cruise ships pull in almost daily, disgorging hundreds and thousands of passengers who walk the tiny town…there are a very few (crummy) shops and (poor) restaurants along the sidewalks near the cruise-ship dock, and a very few more shops and restaurants 5 or 6 blocks north where the ferry dock is located. Not much here, to say the least. But the town has “gentrified” itself with some nice park benches along the new concrete walkway along the small boat harbor, where there are commercial fishing boats, some pleasure boats and sailboats, and a bunch of charter vessels that take people on sightseeing tours, fishing tours, and island tours, to the south along the Kenai Peninsula as well as around Prince William Sound and to the east toward Cordova.

Whittier’s entire population lives in a single highrise apartment building on the side of a mountain, sitting far below a huge glacier /icefield that produces massive waterfalls and ribbons of streams running down the steep embankments above.

Along the waterfront I stand along the railing looking down at the small boat harbor; a cruise ship is in. A few passengers wander around town, and a few of them sit on the benches by the harbor. The only significant activity in town and along the small harbor  docks seems to consist of a half-dozen attractive young people ages 22-32 carting huge white coolers of perishable food, drinks and ice, plus wagonloads full of potatoes, onions, beets, squash, bottles of drink mixers, etc. to load them aboard a large private yacht tied at the end of a dock out near the cruise ship. This white yacht is old-fashioned, probably from the 1940s and most likely a restored wooden boat, about 70 feet long with a lovely sleek hull and a long single-story cabin with a flat roof, trimmed in green paint. The cabin was lined with square windows all the way around to the rear deck. I’ll bet if I had walked down there to look, it would have had beautiful mahogany doors leading from the “main salon” out to the rear dock, as these kinds of old yachts often had.  While reading about Alaska, I had noticed that there were quite a few of these older “luxury yachts” available for charter, as well as some new ones – with captain and crew of 3-5 people -- to cruise the coasts of Alaska for anywhere from a week to 10 weeks, whatever the passengers were willing to pay. I noticed that Whittier’s harbor contained at least a half-dozen of these large yachts ranging from 60-100 ft in length that probably take paying passengers on private charter trips. In only one other harbor we’ve been to – Seward – did I see any large luxury yachts like this tied up at the docks.

While standing at the railing of the boat harbor watching the passing parade, I got to talking with a lady of 82, from Ohio, who had brought her 2 married daughters on an Alaskan cruise to celebrate a special family event. They were from the Island Princess ship that was in port, and only 3 hours ago just prior to pulling into Whittier had learned from the captain of their ship that their 6-day land excursion portion of their cruise had been inexplicably cancelled. They had paid for the land portion already and apparently weren’t going to get their money back. They were angry, and were uncertain what to do.

No reason was given for the cancellation, and they were given no alternative land excursion package. They were told they could always “find and pay separately for a different private land excursion, but once you leave the ship, you are responsible for everything. You can’t leave any belongings on the ship if you leave, and if you fail to show up exactly on time the day you’re supposed to meet with the ship in a different port, it might leave without you.” Oh, nice, huh? So they decided to just stay with the ship. But they were so disappointed that they won’t get to see any of the things they had planned on seeing, such as Anchorage or Denali.

After walking soe more, we took Rollin Home and got in line for the ferry to Juneau, then went to get dinner at a nearby place that has fish (halibut or cod) & chips. Outside tables were available, but had 1 or more people at each, so I asked a fellow sitting by himself if we could join him for dinner. Never have I seen anyone so overjoyed t being asked if we could share his table! We get to talking while he eats and we wait for our fish & chips. Ben Hausmann turns out to be the principal oboist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. He is such a joy! Taking a solo vacation by ferry. We gabbed about music, symphonies, conductors of symphony orchestras, the lives of musicians, his life in Seattle, a BMW he just bought, and before long 2 hours had passed in lively fashion. He’s taking the same ferry we’re on, se we’ll see him again over the next 2 days. Ben’s a graduate of Juillard and was at the Aspen Music Festival 5 years ago…he did that instead of coming to Breckenridge and spending the summer with the National Repertory Orchestra.

Our ferry is 2½ hours late getting here from Kodiak but when it finally pulls in and docks, the crew swings into action and makes up much of the time we’ve lost… we leave within a half-hour of the scheduled departure. Clever how they organize the vehicles by destination, size, shape, etc to fit everybody on. A real jigsaw puzzle. They’re really good at this. Some very long RVs and trucks with trailers and semis have back onto the boat (yes, in reverse!). We go on head-first and then back into our lane ¾ of the way toward the bow of the ship, guided expertly by a fella who clearly has helped thousands of RV drivers and truck drivers onto the ferry into its narrow lanes.

It’s really late by the time we get underway, so we head for our cabin and hit the sack at 12:45 am.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #96 on: July 22, 2013, 01:46:43 PM »
Tuesday July 16, 2013      Day 49

Aboard the SS Kennicott, AMHS…306 ft long, full load of vehicles, not a full load of passengers though. To sleep at 12:30, my eyes boing wide open at 7. We’re far out at sea…no land visible out window on port side, which is the side where we’d see land if it was within sight. We’re in cabin 74A, with a large window about 5 ft x 6 ft in size. Nice. I got us a 4-berth cabin on the advice of friends, so that we would both have “lowers” and we could pile our bags of stuff up top. Good idea…berths are narrow. Blankets very very thin, so we turned up the heat a bit in our cabin to avoid freezing overnight, and I wore my fleece to bed.

As it turned out, it was fortunate we got this 4-berth cabin, because Don would have killed himself hitting his head on the upper berth if he’d had to use one of the standard upper-lower berth beds…after he bonked his head 3 times in rapid succession on the upper, we decided I would sleep on the lower berth of the upper-lower set, and we would make up the “couch” into a berth for Don…clever gadget, you pull a lever and yank the bed down from its locked position on the wall. It’s slightly wide than the other berths, too, so he was happy.

At 7 when I awoke, I took my pillow and crawled in with Don…now this is really snuggling! Very close quarters! We slept another hour. Got up, took shower, dressed, went for a hike around the ship to find everything and get the lay of the land, so to speak. 1 deck up is the café and all the lounges for observing, reading etc. Some kids and campers are in sleeping bags on the upper deck, stretched out on long white plastic lounge chairs, the folding kind. But there are no cushions for these plastic lounge chairs…looks pretty uncomfortable to me. One set of campers pitched a tent in the upper deck solarium…the “stakes” used to hold their tent in place are taped to the ferry’s deck with neon green duct tape. In one of the forward lounges with upholstered reclining seats and many windows, some young’uns are stretched out on the carpeted floors between the longer rows of chairs, covered by thin blankets or unwound sleeping bags. Signs on the walls say there’s no “camping” in these forward lounges, but nobody is enforcing the rules. The ferry provides large bathrooms with nice clean showers for people who sleep in tents and on chairs for the long trips, and don’t have their own cabins. Definitely the way to go if you’re traveling cheap.

Oatmeal and fruit for bkfst in the cafe. Hot tea. There’s a microwave available for anyone to use, no charge…ah, we can have our snacks and heat water for coffee and tea without paying a fortune! The cashier just told me there’s no charge, either, for hot water when you bring your own cup and teabag. Great! I thought everybody would be up early, that it would be a mob scene in the café…not so, however. There are only a few people here yet. A few more straggle in every few minutes. It’s 8:45.

I talked to a staff member who is clearing tables and washing them. She lives on an island near Ketchikan, gets there by boat. Born & raised in Anchorage, she was a young child when the Big Earthquake hit Anchorage in 1964. She remembers certain details of that day, she says, with amazing clarity: Her mom had a large pot of stew simmering on the kitchen stove, and the pot flew across room with food streaming out of it when the quake hit. The images in this woman’s mind consist of a series of “photographic stills”…she can see the pot in midair, the food hanging suspended in the air and the pot’s cover floating in the air above the food. She even remembers the color of the paint on her home’s kitchen cabinets, and the cabinets’ green trim. She recalls her mom running to her, grabbing her by the waist and taking her outdoors where they lay on the ground. She still sees in her mind’s eye all the trees in the yard “rolling back and forth”. And she remembers an entire family who lived nearby being swallowed up by the earth and never seen again…the house and all the people were simply gone, disappeared. Not a trace of them was ever found.

Don and I strolled the deck when we finished in the café…how I love to go stand on the bow of a moving ship. Not really the bow on this ferry…they don’t let passengers go down to that level, but only 1 deck above. Same thing. Weather gray, overcast, but mild. Too chilly to stay out for long without a fleece or coat though. Indoors, found comfortable places to sit and read for the day, use computer. Talked for a long time to AMHS (Alaska Marine Highway System) staffer who cleans the galleys during the night, as he was relaxing and finishing his coffee before heading for his bunk to sleep for the day. He’s been 18 yrs in Alaska, 16 of those working for AMHS doing the Ketchikan to Kodiak run, stopping in Homer, Whittier, Yakutat along the way. He has never tired of it! His work for the ferry system is 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off, Ketchikan to Kodiak and back. The seas are generally calm is the summer months, but in winter high winds and high seas occur.

When the fog is thick and the seas are high, this must be a real challenge for the captain and the crew! I’ve read that the coasts and inlets of Alaska are littered with wrecks of ships. There are maps showing locations of all the shipwrecks, and it is literally dotted with points. We’re approaching an island that is a big rock outcropping, cliffs about 200 feet high, some trees and green. Just offshore of this cliff is a very tall, large, pointy rock to the south, lighthouse perched atop it.

A tugboat is approaching us from far off, hauling a big barge full of shipping containers piled 3 levels high with a large cable. The barge is probably a quarter mile or so behind the tub, way off to the side because the wind and current blows it sideways. Another ship of some kind appears off in the distance. And a couple of low-lying rock islands slightly to the north and way east as well.

We pull into the landlocked village of Yakutat about 7:30 tonight…might be there just long enough to get off the boat stretch our legs, walk to the coffee place and the little store up the street in Yakutat before reboarding and moving on towards Juneau. Even though the boat arrived 3 hours late last night from Kodiak, the crew did a fast turnaround, made up almost all of that time getting loaded…we left only a half-hour late, at 12:15 am instead of 11:45 pm, and this morning we’re back on schedule. We get into Juneau at about 2:30 tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, the 17th). Long trip across the Bay of Alaska…

The maintenance guy tells me a story about some really heavy weather they were in last February…on this boat, in 50 knot winds, 15 ft waves, really listing and rolling, while heading for Kodiak from Whittier. Really unusual weather for that run. Cooks couldn’t get meals ready because of how rough it was. So most people were seated or in their cabins. This guy was in his bunk sleeping, it was daytime, but had to hang on tightly to the sides of his mattress to keep from pitching out of his bunk, with the rolling. Had the feeling that the boat was rolling in a way that didn’t feel normal…suddenly a 50-ft rogue wave rolled in and hit the Kennicott broadside, pushing it over nearly to the point where it couldn’t recover. But it did come back up…only after a tremendous amount of damage was done to the ship…big vending machines yanked right out of the walls everywhere, every chair not bolted down flew through the air, people flying everywhere, big firehoses came unrolled and flew out of their enclosures. Dishes broke, floors were littered with food, dishes, glasses, silverware, boxes, cans, teabags, sugar packets.

A guy who saw the wave coming and who had never been in a rogue wave before said to himself, “Oh my god, this is the end. We’re all going to die!” The officers told him that the wave was above the height of the bridge and was the scariest thing they’d ever seen. They couldn’t do anything to dodge it, it came at the boat so fast. After it hit and the ship pitched to the side so dramatically, it lost both engines and wallowed in the heavy seas for hours, disabled. Workmen got the engines running again after about 6 hours, and when the ship pulled into Homer as an emergency measure, the Coast Guard impounded it and said it couldn’t sail anywhere because so many safety shutoff valves throughout the ship had operated properly that the ship couldn’t function safely until those valves were turned on once again. It took 2 weeks for repairs to be made so the ship could go to sea again.

We pass the day talking to people, reading, walking the decks for exercise. It’s blustery outside. Naturally, as evening approaches, the weather clears a bit and the sun pikes through as we near Yakutat, a native village with only one store and one little coffee shop. Yakutat has a harbor filled with every size of commercial fishing boat, and has a large fish processing plant on the docks where the ferry pulls in. It’s a tiny place with a population of only about 250 people, mostly natives. Lots of people exit the ship, just to stretch their legs. We decide not to, but to stand at the rail and watch the fascinating process of the crane aboard the ferry put a huge steel platform in place for vehicles to use to leave and enter the boat. Very cleverly done. Massive crane and massive platform, moved around as if they were toys.

The ferry is only in Yakutat for a bit over an hour, so everybody comes streaming back pretty quickly, some carrying sacks with a few groceries. Interestingly, quite a few natives who live in Yakutat come aboard the Kennicott and buy hot meals in the café of the ship to take out…everything from pizza to hamburgers to fish & chips. A ferry crew member tells me that some of the Yakutat locals buy 6 or more meals each time the ferry stops…so basically their whole week is “ferry food.”

Don does his walkabout and meets more people aboard. He talks for quite a while with a fellow from Phoenix who is on a looooooong motorcycle journey throughout Alaska with his 11 year old daughter, who rides is an enclosed sidecar the whole time. They had helmets equipped with Bluetooth so they talk to each other a lot while riding. She is a real cutie, already almost 5 ft tall with a head of wonderfully frizzy light-brown hair that flies about her head like a halo. She dresses in jeans that graduate in color from bright neon pink at the bottom to yellow at the top, and then tops the outfit off with a pale yellow T-shirt. Sparkly pink sneakers on her feet, and a sparkly pink thing about her neck. I compliment her on her wonderfully bright and coordinated colors, and she grins broadly and says, “You’re the very first person who has noticed or said anything about my outfit on this whole trip.” She’s obviously pleased that I noticed. I tell her she’s an artist with a great sense of color, and she tells me, “Well, maybe not an artist, but a musician anyway.” She plays the piano and the violin…I tell her again, she’s an artist! She beams!

“Is this your Trip of a Lifetime?” I ask. “Oh, yes, it definitely is,” she responds. She tells me they are having a really wonderful time together, staying in roadhouses, B&Bs, and motels along the way most of the time. “Whose idea was this trip?” I ask. She looks at her dad, and says to him, “Dad, whose idea was this? Didn’t we both have the same idea at the same time?” They converse together so wonderfully. He says he had always wanted to come to Alaska, and she says, “So Have I, from the time I was little I always wanted to come here.”

Before long, we’re at sea again headed for Juneau, at the foot of the Lynn Canal. Don and I read for a short time, then retire to our cabin for night #2 at sea. We will sleep a lot better tonight, having adjust to the vibration and noise of the engines.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #97 on: July 22, 2013, 02:16:18 PM »
Wednesday July 17, 2013      Day 50

Short diary today. Got to Juneau in afternoon. Went to Spruce Meadow RV Park and checked in. Found our spot, left to go to Fred Meyer for a few groceries.

On the way back to RV park, stopped by the small boat harbor to have a late lunch/early dinner of fish & chips we’d heard about…a little place the locals love called Hot Bite. Sorta fast food joint with a few tables indoors and a few outdoors. A bit chilly outside with the wind so we eat indoors. They offer a halibut cheeks sandwich…oh, goody, I will have one of those! Don has his usual cod fish & chips. The halibut cheeks, I must say, are vastly overrated…these are overcooked, not tender. Not only stringy in texture but a bit rubbery too. I think I’m done forever with halibut cheeks. Don’s cod is delish.

We decide not to go into downtown Juneau today…we’ll be back here later and we’ll go then, probably on the bus since downtown Juneau is very tight for parking, especially larger vehicles like RVs. For now we’ll just enjoy the outskirts. Less traffic, very lovely.

It’s a bright sunny day, quite warm really. We go for a walk around the harbor before leaving. The parking lot here is very very very tight…we’re lucky someone in a corner spot was pulling out or we never would have gotten the Rollin Home parked in this little pie-shaped lot. A good omen.

Back at the RV park, we take another walk around the park and talk to some folks who are staying there. Nice place. I feel good about leaving the RV here when we go to Gustavus later on. The weather is so mild, this would be a great place to sit outside and read, but there are mosquitoes and black flies. Yuck. So we read indoors with the screen closed and windows open.

Clearly we are back in “the south” where it actually gets dark at night…late, but at least the sun is not shining brightly at midnight. We have a very old favorite, small liverwurst sandwiches with mayo, for a late dinner, with some wine, and then hit the sack early in order to be up at 4:45 am to get to the ferry dock on time for our trip to Skagway tomorrow morning. Nice day…unhurried, very coastal, gorgeous fjord scenery.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #98 on: July 22, 2013, 03:11:23 PM »
Thursday July 18, 2013      Day 51

Arrived at the ferry dock at 5:45, got our tickets and drove into our lane to wait. Loaded at 7 am, ferry departed on the dot of 8 am, per schedule. Such efficiency! While waiting in line, we ate breakfast in the Rollin Home. We’re getting this down to a science…set alarm, rise, get dressed, go to ferry, check in, get in line, then eat breakfast and have our tea. Good system.

This system also gives Don plenty of time to do his walkabouts. He has such fun talking to everybody in the RV lanes at the ferries. And everybody is always really interested in our RV…nobody has ever seen one like it, so they all want to ask questions. Today, Don brings only 1 couple in for “the tour”. Lots more vehicles in line to get on the ferry today than at Whittier, but the loading is much speedier. The difference I learned later, is that the vehicles don’t ALL have to get a 4-point strapdown to prevent movement…On the MV Kennicott we were crossing the Gulf of Alaska where there is greater chance of rough weather and movement of vehicles and cargo; now that we’re sheltered by offshore islands, the waters are almost always calm and vehicles are unlikely to shift. So it speeds the loading process considerably.

The trip today was 4 ½ hours to Skagway from Juneau, stopping at Haines along the way The population is much greater in this part of Alaska…I can see cabins along the coastlines and on some islands as the MV Malaspina chugs on by. We are cruising the Lynn Canal almost the entire way to Skagway, the primary route of the gold rush Klondikers as they rushed to the gold fields almost a thousand miles to the north. The Lynn Canal is a huge body of water with countless little islands, some with marine markers and lights on them. One that we pass has a 1-story octagonal white stone lighthouse perched atop it. Looked more like Maine or Massachusetts than Alaska. Sometimes we’re very close to “shore” on one side of the ship…shore being where a giant tree-covered piece of rock rises straight up out of the water. Other times the shore is far away on both sides.

Looking ahead up the canal to the north, I see layer upon layer of high mountains rising in the misty distances, faintly blue and getting lighter and lighter as they recede. We’ve come out of the morning fog and clouds now and the sun is shining. Good day for sunburn, I can tell. The water of the canal is very blue-green. At times I can see a huge waterfall where a river or creek grey with volcanic ash silt pours into the Canal, turning it milky.

At timers the Malaspina passes another ferry going the other way. The Malaspina is the oldest ship in the Alaska Marine Highway System, launched in 1964.

As we pull into the dock at Skagway, 3 huge cruise ships are in the harbor. The winds are blasting but temperatures are mild. We’re one of the last vehicles off the Malaspina, though we were one of the first on board.

As we drove off the ferry, we took a quick right and were in Pullen Creek RV Park instantly. Now this is nice! Owner told us our spot and to go ahead and park, and check in later…he had an RV caravan arriving and needed to get them settled in.

NOTE: Anybody staying in Skagway and intending to stay at Pullen Creek RV Park should definitely make a reservation several weeks beforehand! The owner tells us that he is getting 3 calls an hour from people wanting a space, saying to him “Oh we never make a reservation ahead of time, we always just call in when we get there!”  Well, he declares to me and Don, “They’re certainly NOT staying here then!” He’s full every night, and anybody who doesn’t make a reservation a long way ahead for this time of year is out of luck. PS There are 2 other RV parks in town, 1 fairly large, 1 small. Neither as good as Pullen Creek, nor as convenient. Pullen Creek park is where most of the RV caravan tours stay, we understand. 

Incidentally, we went and did our laundry while in Skagway for 3 ½ days at the laundromat in in the other RV park, the one at the north end of town…best laundromat in town, the locals told us. We agree…lots of big washers and big dryers! Affordable too.

While at Pullen Creek RV Park, Don met Beth who is driving a Winnebago Via, very much like our RV, also a Mercedes diesel Sprinter van. She’s from Florida, a great talker. She’s part of the big RV caravan that came in just after we arrived…24 RVs traveling together on a Fantasy Tours trip for 48 days. They’re staying in Skagway 4 nights, then going back into Canada, heading south then they split up at Smithers BC. 

Beth, traveling by herself, is a widow of 78 who has had every kind of camping experience with her late husband over the years they were married…from tents to pop-ups to truck campers to big Class A coaches. So she really knows what she’s doing, more than we do. She loves her “downsized” Winnebago Via 2010 as much as we love our Itasca Reyo. One of the latches on her basement storage cabinet wasn't working, so Don tried to help her fix it. The guide of her RV caravan finally was the one who got it fixed and working for her.

We took a walk into Skagway in the blowing winds, and found most stores and shops already closed by 5-6 pm. This town rolls up its sidewalks early in spite of cruise ships or other visitors, for gosh sakes! But we were able to go into the local bookstore/newsstand and, BEHOLD! We found the NY Times AND the Wall Street Journal! Hurrah!  The papers are flown in daily from Juneau…so needless to say we’ll buy them every day we’re here!

Dinner in the RV consists of Susie’s little French picnic and wine. A bit of reading, and off to bed. I’m beginning to dream every night of fjords and other Alaskan scenery. The spectacular country is imprinting itself on my mind’s screen.
« Last Edit: July 22, 2013, 03:15:08 PM by SaltyAdventurer »
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #99 on: July 22, 2013, 05:28:58 PM »
Friday July 19, 2013       Day 52

Slept in…pitter-patter of rain through the night and into this morning. Good sleeping sounds.  No wind this morning, clouds are lifting a bit, but still gray. Walked into town about 11:30 to look around a bit, do a little  shopping (of course, we need absolutely nothing!), and pick up our tickets for the Days of ’98 show at 2:30, which I reserved about 3 months ago for today, thinking it would be crowded and I might not be able to get in. Ha! Hardly the case. The place is deserted, except for the actors, dressed in goldrush days garb and barking their come-on lines in front of the Old Eagles Hall where the show is performed daily (since 1923!!!). the actors have changed, obviously, but not the show…

When it started, there were about 20 of us in attendance, enough to make it interesting with the hoots and hollers, but anything but packed. The place seats about 250 and on days when several cruise ships are in, it is packed. But today is a “quiet day” in Skagway. The show is about Soapy Smith, the con man from Chicago who controlled the town of Skagway much like a Mafia don during the gold rush days of 2897-98, until a vigilante by the name of Frank Reid (incidentally, another two-timing crook!) took him out…both men died in the gunfight that took place on the docks just about where our RV is parked.

Skagway is loaded with historic buildings dating from 1880 to 1915 that have been rescued and restored, as well as some tumbledown shacks and crumbling wood buildings that are either in the process of being restored or are just deteriorating. We walked the main street, Broadway, and some of the side streets, after the show ended. At the visitor center, several hosts told us NOT to try driving the Dyea road (pronounced Dye-eee) out to the mud flats and to the trailhead of the Chilkoot Trail, where the gold rushers went when they started their horrendously long hike up over the White Pass through snow and ice and carrying a thousand pounds of supplies to get to the Yukon River for their trip to Dawson City to find treasure 800 miles north. On nearly impassable terrain. We were told the road to Dyea and the Chilkoot Trail was gravel all the way, one-lane and very narrow in places, with many blind curves and jutting rocks that would prevent us from seeing or avoiding oncoming traffic.

Don has his heart set on going out to see the Chilkoot Trail, after all we’ve read and are reading about the Klondike gold rush years. We can either rent a jeep to drive ourselves out there, or find a guide to take us there. We find out that renting a jeep will cost us $120 for a day. Suddenly I spot a large 24-passenger shuttle van labeled Dave’s Dyea as it rumbles past us…exactly the same size and length as our RV, and clearly it drives the horrid road out to Dyea, so why can’t we? Don runs to catch the driver and see if he/she would take us out there, but the driver has disappeared along with all the passengers as we round the round where it has parked.

Frustrated, we stop in at the Visitor Center (again) and ask for the phone number of Dave’s Dyea Shuttle & Tours. Don is on the phone with Dave himself as I stand outdoors waiting. Dave says to look out the window for a white van that happens to be parked 3 steps from where I am waiting, driven by a lady named Ruth. He says she’ll be glad to take us out to Dyea. When? Don inquires. Right now, Dave says.

Don steps outside to find and speak with Ruth, and finds her and me inches apart. Ruth says she’s waiting for a couple of hikers to arrive on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad train, who she is going to shuttle out to the Dyea campground to pick up their cars. She says she’ll charge us $15 each for the round trip to Dyea, and she’ll show us everything on the way…what a deal!!! WE scramble aboard. It is 5:30 pm…who cres if this is a late-day tour? It’s light until at least 9 so we’re in luck!

Turns out Ruth Craig is 72 and hails from Tipton, Michigan, south and a bit west of the Detroit area in the very southern part of the state. It is such fun hearing Alaska stories from a fellow Michigander. And such stories she tells us! She is Dave’s sister and has been here 18 years, moving here after 30+ years in Arkansas after leaving Michigan and raising 6 sons there. She is an absolute fountain of information about everything and is a salt-of-the-earth lady, rugged and unpretentious and friendly. She leans her head out the window to call to everyone we meet along the way, calling each by name. Rush is a delight. She reminds me so much of some of the rural women I knew outside Grand Rapids, folksy of talk and manner, and quite Southern in her speech patterns after so many years in Arkansas. She calls everything a “booger”, ranging from her old car, to an unfriendly dog, to an eagle, to a problem situation she once faced.

Incidentally, the Dyea Road is pretty lousy, but it certainly would be driveable by us in our RV. There are some even larger camping vehicles parked out at the campgrounds …like a 26-foot 5th wheel trailer hauled by a large long-bed truck. And as we return from this adventure we see a 40-foot Class A coach headed out there…now that, I would NOT want to be driving, but our little 25 footer would do just fine! And there’s really no places on the road that someone couldn’t back up enough or pull over to let a passing vehicle get by.

The 2 hikers have spent a week hiking the Chilkoot to Bennett, in Canada. (Bennett is the small town where gold rushers built small Gerry-built boats out of packing crates and other “found” lumber pieces, to float down the Yukon River from its headwaters toward Dawson in 1897 until 1902, mostly long after the real gold was long gone.) The young woman, in her 30s, is from Switzerland and left her hiking partner in Skagway while she picks up their truck; the young man, in his 40s, is from Anchorage. Ruth regales all of us with stories of Skagway and hunting and eagles and salmon runs and floods and old villages on the way out to the Chilkoot Trailhead lot.

After dropping off the hikers at their cars, Ruth drives us out onto the mud flats at the head of the Lynn Canal, where the chum salmon and the pinks salmon are just beginning to swim upstream through the rapids toward their spawning grounds. These heavy gravel stream-bottoms are where they love to swish their tails and scoop out the streambed nest in which they lay their eggs, she announces. Don and I both get out to walk in to see one of the streams where fish are swimming and resting. The flies and mosquitoes are thick. It’s not pleasant…if we were to camp out here at the state park campground, we’d be wearing mosquito nets for sure. We see some very nice salmon…the pinks…coming upstream.

We drive slowly through the state park campground…the sites are very nice! Each with a picnic table and a fire ring, and a nice level gravel parking pad. But no hookups of any kind. About 10 of the sites are taken, by truck campers and tent campers. They must like bugs a lot.

On our way back toward Skagway on the Dyea Road, Ruth points out where the eagles always are…and a big bald eagle is sitting right there on a sandbar eating a fish. Slowly and deliberately. Picking it clean, despite what we’ve heard and read that eagles often eat just the head (with all its fat) and leave the rest of the fish for the scavenger crows and gulls. We sit there for a good 20 minutes watching and taking pictures. The first eagle is joined by a 2nd. Then a young bald eagle – brown and white spotted, so definitely about 2 years old – flies in an lands, but is quickly rousted and sent off the reservation by the adult eagles protecting their territory and their fish.

When we returned to town, Ruth drove us all round town showing us everything, include the old carved stone McCabe College building from 1880 that is now a government building. She drove us past each person’s house and told us who lived there, who had gardens, who had kids,, who does what, where, when and how. What a kick! She even drove us past her own house with its raspberries growing up the fence and its vegetable garden.

That was SO special….a really wonderful experience with a wonderful lady. I gladly paid her more than she said she would charge us, and Don threw in another $20 for her. We had asked her if we could take her to dinner after this wonderful and she declined, so we took it to mean she’d rather have the money. She’s had a very tough life. I gave Ruth a big hug, and we walked back to our Rollin Home, totally satisfied that we’d had the BEST of all tours of Dyea and the trailhead of Chilkoot.

One more thing: We came here thinking we would hike the very beginning of the Chilkoot for maybe an hour, just to get a feel for what the horrors of it were for the mean and their pack animals back in the day. But the trailhead at the bottom of the Chilkoot is absolutely nothing like the pictures you see of the steep “ice steps” section of the trail. The trailhead is actually on the flats, and you have to go 13 miles before you get to the really tough stuff. The trail has many sharp rocks and lots of roots to trip on, and goes mostly through forested areas along muddy paths. Lots of bugs. Can you guess? We didn’t hike for an hour!

Back at home, another Susie French picnic dinner of cold cuts, cheese, apple, and bread plus some wine, and off to bed. The best day ever!  We really got to see and feel and experience what we wanted to see….the Chilkoot Trail’s beginning, and the ferocious distance the gold rushers had to hike with all their stuff …20 miles out of steep, narrow rocky trail that is now the Dyea Road…before they even GOT to the Chilkoot Trail. I can’t even imagine what spurred these men on.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

Wigpro

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    • Capt Jim Lucas
Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #100 on: July 23, 2013, 02:32:18 PM »
Say Hello in site #3 -Camp Host at Oceanside RV....

Jim


Full time traveler, fishing guide and photographer!

Travel Blog: http://captjimtravelblog.blogspot.com

Website: www.captainjimlucas.com

Photo Site: http://captjim.smugmug.com/

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #101 on: July 24, 2013, 01:12:45 PM »
Saturday July 20, 2013      Day 53

Drove 23 miles north on Klondike Hwy today from Skagway to satisfy Don’s burning desire the retrace part of the rugged Klondike Trail that thousands of men (and many women too!) hiked in 1897-1902, driven by their desire for riches.

Got just barely north of downtown Skagway and stopped at the Jewell gardens to make sure their restaurant would be open for a late lunch on our return to Skagway later in the day. To our disappointment, we learned that it would not be open later that day…a big Alaska garden club convention is coming into town today, and will be taking over the entire restaurant for its annual dinner tonight. Oh darn. So we decided to stay and eat lunch there right away…after all, it was almost noon!

Skagway is known as the Garden City of Alaska, but by the 1950s had no gardens left in it, except for individual home gardens, as the town continued to shrink and decay. So a lady named Jewell approached the city council and proposed to renovate a home north of town and put in beautiful new gardens that would be a major tourist attraction. They responded with some financial assistance for her and thus was born this lovely setting, with a renovated home, extensive acres of gardens, a huge model train setup that winds through a large garden area, and most recently, a glassblowing factory that makes very high-quality glass products. The gardens are largely “edible gardens” growing greens, herbs and vegetables that it supplies to the Poppies restaurant at the site.

Don ordered a pulled pork sandwich that arrived with a beautiful pile of fresh greens on the side that were so inviting he ate the whole salad before tasting the pulled pork, which was also delicious. I ordered fresh beet pasta sautéed with fresh vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, sweet peppers, onions, mushrooms) in white wine…and topped by an incredibly fresh piece of lightly grilled salmon that was so succulent I was blown away. This lunch was by far the very best quality food we’d had on the entire trip…the prices were very reasonable and it outdistanced Simon & Seaforts in Anchorage or any other place we’d eaten at since leaving home on May 28!

This is a BIG recommendation: Anyone visiting Skagway should go 1 mile north of town to Jewell Gardens for lunch or dinner, and be sure to allow time to walk all around the terrific gardens. Glassblowing demonstrations are excellent, as is the Jewell Gift Shop.

After a surprisingly wonderful lunch, onward and upward on the Klondike Highway. This is an Ooh and Aah road every inch of the way. At one point, an enormous waterfall drops 40 feet immediately adjacent to the highway…worth a stop and a picture, of course! Gorgeous views & scenery…the mountains are so rugged that it is literally unimaginable that tens of thousands of gold rushers climbed through huge jagged rocks along the steep path now followed by the White Pass & Yukon Railroad (affectionately known as the WP&Y), which wasn’t put in until after 3 years’ worth of gold-seekers and pack animals had lugged countless tons of food and equipment up those mountainsides – many perishing along the way from falling off ledges and/or starving to death. The gulch below the pass is called Dead Horse Gulch for good reason.

The road we drove was only put in during the 1970s, an indication of how difficult the terrain is. What a trip!  We drove almost to the Canadian border, then turned around and went back to Skagway. A very interesting day.

The rest of our day was spent taking walks, eating a tiny dinner at home, and reading.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #102 on: July 24, 2013, 01:15:31 PM »
Sunday July 21, 2013      Day 54

Today we take the ferry to Haines. We like Skagway quite well, and we could easily spend a couple more days here taking 3 of the hikes that are easy to do from our RV Park. But it’s been raining and spitting a good part of the time we’ve been here, so I guess we’re ready to hit the road and move on.

But Skagway has interesting history, lots of very old buildings, nice people, and interesting things to do. Too many cruise ships and hordes of tourists moving through a town of 2-dozen jewelry shops, though – odd that Skagway streets are lined with jewelry shops, but I guess there’s been lots of demand for gold nugget jewelry every since the gold rush days ended. Many if not most of the shops are owned/staffed by Asians, I noticed. And many of them sell very expensive stuff…the Monte Carlo of Alaska?

Our ferry is at 5 and we need to get our tickets and be in line by 3 pm. Easy. We walked to town and picked up the newspapers…so nice to have been able to read the Friday WSJ and now to get the Sat-Sun WSJ! Yeah! We stop for Starbucks at a local shop that serves my favorite java. We prop ourselves on tall stools at a counter and sip our coffee, surrounded by cruise ship passengers who’ve invaded the town again -- and read papers before heading back to the RH to check out of our space.

Our plan was to get a fair amount of activity in early in the day today, then get on the ferry and eat lunch in the cafeteria. Then nap or read. Worked out well. We were one of the first vehicles to drive aboard – surprise!! – so we headed for lunch before sailing. Only an hour to Haines today. Don had a big bowl of the ferry line’s good chili and I had a big salad of very fresh crispy greens. We shared a bowl of watermelon cubes.

In Haines, once again our RV park is right on the water’s edge, this time a few miles from the ferry dock. It’s also at the edge of downtown Haines, so everything is within walking distance again. Nice. We’re at Oceanside RV park, which is just terrific! It’s a small park and RVs are packed in fairly tight, but we face the water and the mountains across the Lynn Canal, so the views are spectacular. The park’s picnic tables are across the driveway on the edge of the bluff overlooking the beach…a wonderful place! Perched on the rocks are herons, and perched on some nearby posts are bald eagles! Every so often the eagles take off and fly by, then come back and sit on the rocks or the poles.

We learn that tomorrow night the owner of the park will host a Crab Feed Potluck…fresh Dungeness crab right off the boat! We sign up for it, though I can’t eat shellfish so I’ll get salmon somewhere. I’ll make my special coleslaw to take to the feast.

After getting parked and hooked up, Don’s fills the water tank in the RV for the first time…the water pressure is very high here, and any RVers without the high-priced water-pressure-regulators are warned to use water from their tanks instead of hooking up to water while here. Hence, we decide to read our big manual and figure out for the very first time how to get water into the water heater, heat it up, and take real showers in our RV. Usually we just use the RV park showers, and that’s fine with us.

Off to bed. Can’t wait to walk the town and see Haines tomorrow.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #103 on: July 24, 2013, 01:16:45 PM »
Monday July 22, 2014      Day 55

At 9 am we’re off to the coffee shop up the hill that we have read offers free WiFi. Hooray! Only place in town that offers free internet. Cute little place too. Rather strange baked goods, but oh well…we shared a raspberry chocolate chunk scone. We ended up spending many hours there writing and having more coffees…their internet works well! We’re happy happy campers.

While there we meet a friendly family of East Germans with 2 very cute smart teenage daughters. Fascinating that one of the girls speaks colloquial English with no accent at all…she sounds as if she’s straight out of a US high school!

I tried to get caught up with my daily journals…so far behind! I got a couple of them done and posted them online, but I’m still about 4 days behind. Yuck.

Haines also has a very good IGA grocery store right at the top of the hill above the RV park and beach…well stocked store and decent prices. I load up on my cabbage slaw, dressing, can of pineapple chunks and can of mandarin oranges to make coleslaw for the potluck dinner. Later in the day, close to dinner hour, Don plans to walk to Big Al’s and get me some salmon fish & chips in lieu of the crab.

We’ve already met a bunch of the RVers at Oceanside…nice folks!  Also, Jim who is Wigpro on RVForum.net is here as camp host…we’ve been communicating with Jim since last spring about our trip to Alaska and his planned trip up here. We were to meet up with him in Cantwell after driving the Old Denali Highway, but his summer job there didn’t work out, so he ended up coming down here to work as camp host. It was such fun meeting up with Jim at long last…he has given us so much help in the planning stages of our trip.

Don immediately struck up a friendship with Rick and Marie from Evergreen Colorado, traveling in a Class A coach parked near us. He is having tons of fun talking with them. Marie teaches accounting at Regis Univ. in Denver.

Joyce owns this place and works very hard. She has a house north of town but moves down here and lives in the RV park’s apartment during the summer months. Her grandkids are here…2 teenagers from Vancouver…and they are so funny and cute. Typical teens! Watching them drive Joyce’s golf cart like a hotrod around the park is a riot. Joyce tells Don she gets the fresh crabs for $6 each…large ones!...and charges RV customers $8 a crab. Well worth it! Don only ate half a crab…he liked it but he’s not crazy for crab the way I used to be or the way everybody else was.

We sat at dinner with 4 college-age summer interns from the Bald Eagle Foundation, 1 from Oregon, 2 from Georgia, 1 from Louisiana. This summer the foundation has 26 raptors in residence…bald eagle feedings are at 10:30 and 2:30. I’d like to go tomorrow.

After dinner, I move over to talk to the folks on Don’s left, Colin and Nyree from Aukland, New Zealand.  Colin lived in Whitehorse YT for 18 years before moving back to New Zealand; this is his first trip back to Alaska in a long time. Nyree and I get to talking and I immediately feel a great connection to her…she loves good food, is quite the reader, and is tons of fun. She’s a New Zealand indigenous Maori (pronounced Mah-ree) and is gorgeous. Her dark brown-black eyes twinkle as she talks, her whole being smiles when she smiles, and her skin is the most splendid cinnamon brown I want to steal it and make it my own. They’re traveling the Yukon, BC, Alberta and Alaska with a travel trailer and their kayaks.

Before long, Joyce had a big fire crackling in the fire ring and we all moved over to roast giant marshmallows on sticks that her grandkids had whittled and prepared for us to use. Memories of youth! We had such fun roasting those marshmallows!

Rick and Marie had departed to drive out to Chilkoot Lake to see bears as night falls…the pinks are coming up the river to spawn so the bears are out, up there. Later we learn they saw one bear.

The rest of us sit around the fire and gab until after 11, then wander home.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #104 on: July 24, 2013, 01:18:31 PM »
Tuesday July 23, 2013      Day 56

Good intentions don’t always work out, especially when we sleep in late! Missed the eagle feeding t 10:30 am at the Eagle Foundation!  Oops. Sunny, beautiful day! Warm!!

We had a good breakfast of oatmeal and tea, then drove south on the Chilkat Peninsula south of Haines, out to the Haines Processing Co. to buy fresh and smoked salmon. The processing plant has an interesting walking tour that enables you to see the fish arrive by boat, get unloaded from the big bins onto processing tables, have the heads and tails chopped off, get de-gutted, then get finely trimmed for packaging, then have all the bones pulled out by hand using tweezers, then go through another washing, get put into packages, run through a machine that sucks all the air out of each package and seals it, then into a flash-freezing chamber, then into big freezer bins for shipment to restaurants and retail stores.

I bought a fresh half-salmon fillet to grill tonight. Less than 1 hour since it was caught…splendid! And 5 packages of smoked salmon. I already bought smoked salmon a bit earlier today at Dejons Delights in Haines too. They do their own processing and we had eaten smoked fish from Dejons in Skagway and found out their main store was in Haines. Their fish is delish! We’re set!! 

We stopped at the Native Alaskan Arts Center…open daily 9-5…it was closed!  But went to a tiny art gallery on the next street over and loved it…Debi Smith is the artist, has been up here 15 years. Very good art…clean designs, carves wood, makes sterling jewelry, carves blocks and makes prints, does serigraphs, paintings. A talented woman!

As we drove out the Chilkat Peninsula to the fish processing place, nearly every turn in the road produced a perfect vista. I kept wanting to stop and spend 2-3 hours painting at bout 8 difft places…this was literally the very first time on this whole trip I wanted to stop and paint paint paint…I could hardly bear to drive on past these perfect scenes. Paintings were forming in my head one after another. It turned out that we couldn’t make it all the way out to the point at the end of the peninsula…the drive out to Chilkat State Park (the point) turned out to have a 14% grade leading to the end of the road. We decided to skip it! Darn! The view at the end of that road is supposed to be mind-blowingly fabulous!

On our way back toward Haines Processing Co. from that side road leading to the State Park, we stopped to buy lemonade from 3 darling little girls with a lemonade stand at the end of their driveway…their mom offered to let us drive her car to the point but I thanked her and said it was OK for us to not see it, that we were pretty much OD’ed on spectacular vistas on this entire trip.

The fish processing plant was set alongside a beautiful little bay out on the Chilkat peninsula…the whole scene is so picturesque it looked like it was staged! A perfect fishing boat was sitting in the perfect spot on the perfect water with perfectly-proportioned red buildings to the right, a couple of low red houses left and behind, snow-capped jagged-topped mtns beyond. Too beautiful to believe.

Then we drove the other direction completely, back through the town of Haines and to the north, out to Chilkoot Lake to see the bears, if they were out today. We saw mama bear and her little cub crossing the road going to the lake to fish. The cub was quite skittish and every time he herad a sound he would dash back into the forest. Then she’d coax him out again and try to get him down to the river for fishing. He was scampering around…very young cub, probably only about a month old. She looked to be a cinnamon black bear…not a grizzly. No hump that we could detect. While out at the lake, we visited Colin and Nyree at their campsite …they had checked out of the RV ark that morning and were planning to stay for a few days up at the lake dry-camping. They were in one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever seen, set in a grove of old-growth spruce trees, breezy so there were no bugs, in dappled sunklight so it was no too dark, with a worn path down to the lake that they were planning to pull their Kayaks down to go paddling for a few hours around the lake.

After the visit at the lake and seeing the bears, we still had some time and energy left so we drove out to the west of Haines to see and visit the bald eagle preserve. The road out there, Haines Highway, follows the Chilkat River, which is very wide and a chalky grey from volcanic silt.  We drove into tiny native town of Klukwan, the main town for the Tlingit Indians. I was hoping to see if we could arrange a tour for tomorrow morning, but absolutely no one was around anywhere. At the preserve, we saw a couple of eagles sitting in trees.  This is the kind of river the Yukon must have been for the thousands of people during the gold rush…very very very wide, a hundred channels, some deep, some shallow, in flood stage right now flowing big, heavy and fast…thousands of sandbars and snags (tree trunks, branches and roots piled high where the flowing water has deposited them).

Grilled our super-fresh salmon for dinner, with organic greens bought yesterday at the coffee shop…perfect dinner!

Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

Terry A. Brewer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #105 on: July 24, 2013, 07:21:41 PM »
>>They’re certainly NOT staying here then!” He’s full every night, and anybody who doesn’t make a reservation a long way ahead for this time of year is out of luck.<<


Things must have changed since 9-1-2006 when we were there & had no problem getting a space for two days....We are also people who never make reservations except for Rally's.

Oldedit

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #106 on: July 26, 2013, 12:22:08 PM »
>>They’re certainly NOT staying here then!” He’s full every night, and anybody who doesn’t make a reservation a long way ahead for this time of year is out of luck.<<


Things must have changed since 9-1-2006 when we were there & had no problem getting a space for two days....We are also people who never make reservations except for Rally's.

Things opened up after a couple of days even though a 24-unit caravan was there.
2014 Newmar Ventana 4037 12.17-
2013 Itasca Reyo T 2012-12.12.17
2006 Roadtrek Adventurous Mercedes (Freightliner)
Colorado 2009-2012
Toad: 2016 Jeep Patriot Stick with Blue Ox

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #107 on: August 01, 2013, 12:38:17 PM »
Wednesday July 24, 2013      Day 57

Today we’re taking the ferry to Juneau from Haines at 5 pm so we have practically a whole day to putz around and see more of Haines. We figure we’ll head out on the road to the ferry in the early afternoon and park somewhere on a pullout, read and nap until we need to check in and get in line by 3. It’ll only be a 3-5 minutedrive to the ferry dock from where we’ll be…and it’s not exactly rush-hour traffic here!

We’ll eat lunch in the Rollin Home while we’re in line for the ferry and that way we won’t have to fight crowds and pay high prices in the ferry’s dining room, given that the 4½ hour trip starts right at dinnertime. We have leftover grilled salmon in the frig (YUM!) and enough remaining organic greens for a great salad…sounds perfect. Good planning on my part, huh?

Despite getting to bed late last night, we awaken at 6 am and get up, get dressed, and head out, taking our computers to the coffee shop for a roll and the free internet hotspot. Good grief, nothing, absolutely NOTHING, is open in Haines early in the morning…it’s 7 am and nothing is stirring in downtown Haines! What a surprise. I thought every tourist town opened early for the hordes of people to move in…and a big cruise ship did arrive last night, so there will be some crowds later But not Skagway or Haines, that’s for sure…things open up at 10 am and the sidewalks in these 2 towns roll up by 6 pm.

It’s rainy-drippy this morning so my skin is happy happy. Don has the computers in his backpack underneath his fleece. As always, I’m using my “sticks” to stay balanced…walking with my hiking poles is SO much better than trying to hobble along without them. I mention to Don that I noticed another coffee shop/bakery over at the health food store about 5-6 blocks away from this as we drove around yesterday, so we head there, thinking that might be open. We need the walk anyway.

We notice as we pass tourist sites, stores and the library…the library of all places!...tht many places don’t even open until 11 am! Lordy! We notice instantly as we near the other coffee shop that plenty of early-morning traffic is puling into the gravel lot around the health food store…aha! We’re in luck. This is indeed the early-morning java-haven for the real people.

Don has a raspberry muffin…enormous!...and I order a slice of banana-walnut bread that looks good. The “slice” turns out to be a full 1-inch+ thick and it’s enough for 3 people for heavens’ sake. I get a couple of butter pats to go with, and we head to a table with our stuff to kill a couple of hours.  I get caught up, at last, with my daily journal posts. When we’re done here, we’ll go back to the other coffee shop and use their free Internet to post our stuff, and Don can read the news for a while. Of course, we’ll have to buy more coffee etc there to compensate them for their free Internet. I’ll be sloshing by noon!

We chat for a while with a nice gray-haired lady at the next table who leans over and begins talking with us, asking questions about where we’re from and so on. Turns out her son, in his 60s now, lives in Haines part of every year. He has lived in Alaska since the 1960s, so he was one of the early arrivals…probably a Hippie…John McPhee wrote about in his book Coming Into the Country back in the 70s. She is 88, from Southern California near San Diego, and still runs 5K races 4-5 times a year. Each year she and her son take a long adventure trip somewhere fun….this year, in late August, they’re headed for southern France where they’ll spend 4 weeks hiking across the Pyrenees into Spain. Last year they climbed Machu Picchu and other parts of Peru for a month. She asked me about my hiking poles because she noticed I take them everywhere…I told her about my broken femur in December, while skiing, and when we finished talking, she said I had convinced her that using a good pair of hiking poles all the time is great for keeping the body balanced, preventing limping, and making one conscious of where you’re putting your feet with each step. She has one bad knee and a replaced hip, so she runs much the same risks I do (pardon the pun), favoring one side of her body and tending to toddle a bit when she’s feeling weak or tired at day’s end.

When I’m done being verbose with my daily posts, we hustle uphill past the late-opening library and down Main St. to the coffee shop with Internet, to post my journals and for Don to read some news online. He’s feeling news-starved! At the Rusty Compass coffee shop & bakery, most seats are already taken by people sitting with their computers, fingers moving rapidly on keyboards. Amazing how silent a great coffee shop can be these days! Used to be abuzz with conversation, now machines and silence all round. Don orders coffees for us (smaller ones this time!) and I do my posts quickly. While Don reads the news, I look around at all the stuff Kathy has for sale, hoping I find something I like that is reasonably priced, so I can support her a bit financially for providing us with the service of free internet.

Darn. I can’t find anything I want to buy among the gift items. Decent prices for things, but not anything I want or could give as gifts. Lots of little pottery items I don't want to have to pack carefully and keep from breaking while we drive. Some native carved things, also very breakable. A few fishy things…already have enough of those. Aha…here’s something! A wonderful pair of handcarved birchwood “giant hands” for tossing and serving salad…in the shapes of fish. Extremely lightweight, nicely designed and finished. Very cute, unique. I’ve seen these “hands” things all over Alaska, but none in the shape of fish. Price is great too…I ask if she has more sets available. Nope, just one set left, Kathy replies. OK, I’ll buy the one set then. Either for us to use in the RH or as a gift, haven’t decided.

While buttoning up the Rollin Home to head towards Chilkoot Lake for a couple of hours before the ferry trip, Rick & Marie come over to gab, and Jim/Wigpro, and Joyce the owner, and her grandkids. Takes us forever to get ready to roll. We’ve made good friends here and it’s been tons of fun!

Chilkoot Lake is virtually deserted today, so we find easy parking at a good vantage point to watch for Mama Bear and Lil Bear if they come to visit. Only about 6 fisherpeople are in the river today in their waders, chest-high in the fast-flowing waters, trying to get the salmon running upstream in large numbers now. At “the weir” that stretches across the river, a naturalist sits and counts spawning salmon, the old fashioned way: He is bundled in many layers of warm clothing, out at the center of the river on a slightly raised platform, with a counter in his hand pressing a button each time he sees a spawning salmon swim upriver towards home. A person does this for approximately 12 hours each day this time of year, in 3 shifts, in order to determine the total size of the salmon school coming to the small streams far above Chilkoot Lake. This will determine the size of the allowable “catch” for the next year, and helps indicate whether the total number of salmon is increasing or decreasing or staying the same year to year. We note as we drive by the weir that the wipe-board says the count today so far is 293, with the total count so far in this second “run” of the year at about 23,000, and we’re only in the very stage of the second run so there are many days yet to go. What we’ve heard and read is that the sockeye runs on a big river like this will typically be in the range of 150,000-230,000 per run.

A few Wildlife Tour vans and small busses roll in and take a turn around the circle, looking for bears. A truck pulls up in back of us and parks…it’s Colin and Nyree coming to say hello (and goodbye, again). Colin says his kayaking tour of the lake yesterday was wonderful…we went to 3 waterfalls and sat and watched as salmon pooled and rested in the basin below each waterfall, then after resting did the fast-tail-wagging thing that big salmon do and literally flew straight up in the air to the top of the waterfall. He was surprised any fish could make it that far, but most did. A few fell backward and had to wait and try a second or third time, but it was amazing to watch large fish generate the power and momentum to fly upwards in the heavy flowing water coming straight down at them. Colin said the pool at the bottom of each waterfall was thick with hundreds of waiting salmon, large and small…the large ones are the sockeyes, smaller ones the pinks. He spent several hours watching the show of furious tail-swishing by the big red salmon climbing toward their home spawning grounds.

Colin and Nyree said that as they took a late-day walk near their campground yesterday they watched fishermen catching salmon yesterday in the river, one after the other using lures. One guy kept tossing each fish he caught back in the river and they asked why he wasn’t keeping any. “Oh, these are just the pinks,” he said. “They’re okay but I really want the sockeyes.” Much harder to catch, he told them. Finally he caught a good sockeye for dinner and left, happy. Colin and Nyree wished he had offered the one of his throwaway pinks, which they would have cooked for dinner!

No bears today. Before long, our sittin time had elapsed and we got into Lane #5 for the Malaspina ferry to Juneau, only a hour. The ship arrived late, but the crew made up the time once again, loading fast and efficiently. We found seats in the forward lounge but soon moved to the lounge one deck above because our seats were surrounded by laughing, fast-talking Germans who all knew each other and were really whooping it up.

We didn’t want to stand outdoors today…lots of wind and with the ship’s forward motion, people were getting blasted on all sides of the ship. Also quite cloudy and misty-rainy so not pleasant for too long outdoors. In the upper lounge, a young baby was squalling nonstop and a young couple with a live-wire blond 2 year old boy were trying to get him to sleep. We ended up talking with the young couple whose little boy just didn’t want to go to sleep…they were travelling with their Mom from Whitehorse and with a sister and her husband who have a 9 month old baby…quite a tribe. As we chatted, I asked the Mom of this traveling group if she had lived in Whitehorse YT very long…25 years, she told me. “Did you know Colin Land when he lived there?” I inquired. “Yes, I did…he was in the construction business with my husband,” she responded. Small world!

She asked all about Colin and Nyree and said she would enjoy seeing them again some day. But, darn, I forgot to get her name…thin, about 5’9”, reserved but friendly, short salt-and-pepper hair, very pretty with a wide thin mouth and a smile that makes her whole face crinkle up.

Times passes quickly and the sky clears as we get to Juneau. We know right where to go this time…our parking spot awaits us at Spruce Meadow RV Park along the Mendenhall Loop Road. Easy. We zip off the ship in back of a black-painted old school bus that a guy bought for $1,600 in Skagway, licensed and registered it and drove it to Haines, and is using to move himself, his furniture and all his belongings to Juneau from outside Haines “because no movers at all were available to get me to Juneau and I had to move here by a certain date to take a job.!” He is probably better off in the long run doing it this way…I would bet it saves him a good deal of money moving himself.

A bite of dinner and to bed with us.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #108 on: August 01, 2013, 12:40:57 PM »
Thursday Aug 1, 2013

Sorry I haven't posted my journals for quite a few days, folks! I'm just SO darn busy having SO much fun!!! There aren't enough hours in each day!  I'll try to get a bunch of journals written and posted today and tomorrow...we're in Sitka right now and it's fabulous here!
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #109 on: August 08, 2013, 10:47:16 AM »
Thursday July 25, 2013      Day 58

Another delightful day in Juneau. We love the RV park we’re in…Spruce Meadow, on the far outskirts of Juneau, feels like semi-wilderness and it’s easy to get everywhere from here. So glad we’re not staying closer to downtown, where the tiny, curvy very narrow streets of “old Juneau” go straight up the mountain. Driving an RV in downtown Juneau is nasty, and there’s very little parking anywhere close to restaurants or shops. And the milling hordes from cruise ships are awful. All the shops are junky. I would say the cruise business has absolutely ruined Juneau.

The outskirts of Juneau, however, are wonderful. Auke Bay, Mendenhall Glacier, and End of the Road are beautiful, relatively deserted. Eagle Beach, where we plan to hang out for a good part of today, is spectacular as the tides recede. Dozens of bald eagles of all ages descend onto the gravel sand spits and watch for fish. A lot of times they just sit there and look around, probably waiting for some other sucker to catch a fish that they can then try to steal. Eagles are quite lazy and they do a lot of stealing from each other. At one point we counted a dozen big eagles on one long spit of gravel.

I had never before seen huge eagles frolicking in the water, taking baths in shallow tidepools and throwing water thither and yon. Until we came here. Eagle Beach is a good place to just sit and watch eagles do what eagles do. Including play in the bathtub! They flap their fully extended wings and fling water into the air, fluffing their whole bodies up, exactly the same way our parrot did years ago when we sprayed her and the way our little sun conure did when he bathed.  To see such large birds do this is amazing. They may look serious and majestic, but bald eagles are just kids that play in the water, after all!

The road that goes up north of Juneau is known simply as The Road. Driving it to the farthest north end of Juneau – End of the Road, it’s called – is gravel for a long way. But we did it anyhow, going all the way out to Echo Bay, where we watched some people fish, tramped the beach a bit, then observed a small metal barge-ferry big enough only for a single vehicle or small load of cargo pull into the beach, lower its front gate, and unload a small truck, which drove away. After a few minutes, a different truck came barreling along and drove down to the beach and up onto the barge. We learned that the barge and the trucks belong to a remote Bible camp about an hour away, up around the point and across some water on a nearby island.

A young family with two cute little kids came to the beach and played around for a bit. We learned they had moved to Juneau several years ago from a smaller, more remote town, but planned to return to the town they came from. They found Juneau to be quite unfriendly and just not a place they wanted to raise their kids.

I wanted to drive out to Point Bridget State Park at a turnoff from End of the Road road, but Don is wary of bears being out and the possibility of encountering them. The state park has 4 really good trails going out to the beach; they’d be a perfect length for us. But Mr. Risk-Averse is being very stubborn.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #110 on: August 08, 2013, 11:16:54 AM »
PS Thursday July 25, 2013

Just looked at notes I made in my iPhone…forgot to put a couple of things into my post for yesterday. When we were sitting out at Eagle Beach north of Juneau watching the big birds eat, fish, bathe, Don turned around looking inland and saw the proverbial “white golfball in the green trees”  (e.g. a mature bald eagle with his white head showing clearly) as he was sitting there just watching all the goings-on at the beach, where 5 or 6 young eagles were fighting over a fish one of them had caught. (You can tell a young eagle from a mature one because the young ’uns are brown-and-white mottled in color until they are 4 years old, when they develop the characteristic white head and white tail, and their bodies become darker brown.)

Suddenly, the mature eagle spread his (or her) wings and flew down to where the youngsters were dancing around fighting over the fish, and quickly took control, shooing all the kids away and eating the fish himself. Ha, so much for giving the food to the young ones so they’ll survive! No way, Jose! Dad (or Mom, whichever) was eager to teach the kids a lesson, that being: Nothing comes easily in this life, kiddo…ya gotta fight for it if you want to keep it!

We took a drive into downtown Juneau to go to the famous Red Dog Saloon to tip a beer in honor of our next door neighbor, Jim and his deceased wife Ruby…they had visited the Red Dog several times when they visited Alaska years ago, Jim told me, and Ruby had so much fun at the Red Dog, a local dive with sawdust on the floors, big animal heads on the walls and a reputation for good ol waterfront brawls.

The crowds from the cruise ships were back aboard the ships by the time we entered the Red Dog, fortunately…except for 6 guys at the bar we were the only ones there. But I could readily imagine the place stuffed with people elbow-to-elbow having a good ol time! We ordered two things to share -- an appetizer of salmon spread with crackers (delicious, lots of salmon and very tasty! But high-priced!) and a burger, which was way overpriced and awful. Wish we had gotten 2 orders of the salmon spread!

Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #111 on: August 08, 2013, 11:42:13 AM »
Friday July 26 through Sunday July 28, 2013      Days 59, 60, 61

I called Gustavus Inn yesterday and talked to Dave Lesh, the owner, to confirm that we would arrive today and make sure our flights hadn’t been changed. Good thing I called…Dave checked with Air Excursions and they had made a mistake and didn’t have us down for our flight today. So he did a switcheroo and we flew out of Juneau to Gustavus at 10:45 am instead of 11:30. OK by me!

Gustavus Inn has been written up by Gourmet, Sunset and Bon Appetit! magazines, all of which have raved about the comfortable inn and the wonderful food. So I decided way last December that Don & I would celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary there…44 years deserves something really special, I figured! Although our actual anniversary isn’t until August 30th, we can start now and celebrate for a month, right?!

Check-in at the Juneau airport for the short bush flights in Alaska is such a breeze that it almost might be worth living up here full time! No tickets needed…they just have your names on a list. No removing shoes, coats, belts or any of that stuff…you just throw your bags onto the cart designated “Gustavus”, walk out the door and climb into a little 6-seater Cessna parked about 20 yards away. Our pilot, Ralph, introduces himself to us and tells us what’s up. He’s a gray-hair with a pot belly who’s been flying here for many years, which reassures Don – Don’s been reading that many bush pilots in Alaska are brand-new at this game and have only recently migrated here. Ralph instructs each of the 4 of us where we should sit during the 25-minute flight to Gustavus.

It occurs to me as we’re waiting at the end of the runway that if flying were this simple and uncomplicated in the Lower 48, I might actually be able to get Don to fly somewhere with me anymore…he just hates all the fol-de-rol of airports since 9/11…such nonsense and CYA maneuvers, he is convinced. For him, the hassle-factor makes traveling by air anywhere unpleasant.

Juneau isn’t socked in with fog and low-hanging clouds today, but it’s not exactly clear, either. Our pilot tells us he’s decided to take an alternate route that goes over some deep valleys, rather than go up over the highest mountains on his way. The route he’s chosen is better for visibility on days like this, he tells us. No worries!  Gustavus is on mainland Alaska, but there are no roads to it. You get there by air or boat only. It is located at the extreme southeast point of Glacier Bay. It is home to a very few hardy souls…population about 250 I think…and everything needed to sustain life has to be hunted, fished, grown in one’s own garden or shipped in. The Gustavus Inn is renowned for its magnificent kitchen gardens, which also are full of spectacular flowers. All of the fruits, vegetables and salads served at the Inn are grown in its gardens. Main courses basically consist of fresh fish and seafood. Desserts are fantastic homemade delicacies that have been on the Inn’s menu for years and years!!!

The trip over is excellent. The light and weather improves as we head north across Icy Strait toward Gustavus. The tides is out and has to be a -4 or something like that…it’s very low and the moss and lichen rings around the shorelines and rocks are colorful and vivid. At one point we are fairly close to the ground as we pas over a high mountain meadow. Close enough that I can spot a large brown bear sow and her 2 cubs as she scurries behind some bushes as she hears the plane overhead. There’s been a fair amount of clear-cutting of timber in wide swaths across these mountains, and I can see the delineations where new growth has arisen. A few patches of old-growth trees appear…it’s easy to see which sections of forests are old-growth -- they are much less uniform in size of trees, color and spacing of trees, and they’re strewn with what I call “toothpicks”,  very tall grey-white dead trees with spindly branches reaching outward in squiggly sprawls, bereft of any green.

At a certain point in our flight over Icy Strait, the water becomes crystal clear and is bright turquoise-green near the shorelines of islands. I can see a bright rusty-orange outline around each island showing the high tide line. Very close to the shoreline the water drops off quickly at a precipice into an abyss of deep turquoise-blue that morphs to deep emerald green. The edge of the precipice is a strip of brilliant yellow-green. It’s easy to see from above that the islands and even the shores of the mainland are nothing more than the tops of mountains extending above the ocean’s ceiling. The patterns and colors are spectacular -- I find myself wishing I could paint from above what I am seeing right now. Photos won’t do it justice at all.

Dropping lower as we near Gustavus, we pass over a spit of land extending out from an island in Icy Strait. The surface of the spit as it extends out into the ocean is brilliant lime green, with a bright yellow rim, then orange, then rust, then the faintest purple as it goes into the sea. The forests inland are deeper greens interspersed with yellows and neutrals. The irregular shoreline is so gorgeous, so vividly yellow-green in this grayish light of day, that I am positively stunned by the beauty of it. I try to take a mental picture of this glorious abstract design of green spruce and deciduous trees, outlined by a wide yellow-gray beach with mosses of yellow-green in parallel stripes defining some big triangles and semicircles, with a narrow strip of copper-red at their outermost edge nearest the mud flat. Stripes of yellower and yellow-brown mud an gravel are closer to the water’s edge, then where the water starts light turquoise strips morph into turquoise-blue wider strips, then to blue-green, then to emerald green. This is so mesmerizing!

I recalled right then that Don’s brother Al gave us a wonderful book of photography years ago of the earth from above, which I found enchanting as I viewed the geometric forms and flowing colors and abstractions. That’s exactly how I felt today!

All of a sudden, we’re on the ground, instantly at the gate, engines off. We’re told to grab our bags off the cart no more than 10 steps away “around the corner in the garage.”

Adrian, a college student home for the summer, picks us up in the Gustavus Inn van. A few minutes’ drive and we are at the Inn, painted a light gray with dark trim, and with a huge wraparound porch hung with baskets of flowers. This reminds me so much of the old resorts on the coast of Maine or Massachusetts, old but not dumpy; refined but anything but stuffy. We are taken to our room, at the end of the hall on the main floor. It’s big, full of light, has lots of windows. The curtains are blowing in the breeze as we enter – the room is aired out for us on this perfect day. There’s an easy chair near the foot of the bed and a separate twin bed in a corner. A nice tall highboy dresser in another corner so I can unpack, even though we’re here for only 2 nights. Nice desk alongside the queen bed, with its own chair. A small sitting room adjoins the bedroom, containing another desk, a couch, and a bay window looking out toward the gardens. The sitting room has its own door leading to a deck with pots of flowers on it and steps down to the yard. The sitting room also has a little kitchenette sink, some dishes and cutlery in the cupboards and a corkscrew in a drawer. Nice suite.

A knock at our door and we’re told lunch is ready for us in the dining room whenever we’re ready to eat. We’re instantly ready to eat! The table is set for only the two of us…everyone else is “out playing” we’re told. We meet Dave Lesh, the owner, who is in
the kitchen cooking, getting ready for dinner. I remind him of my serious shellfish allergy, and he says there’s always an alternate food available if/when shellfish is on the menu. 

Lunch consists of 2 cheeses – a beautiful Swiss and a cheddar – along with thick slices of homebaked bread and Manhattan-style fish chowder. Mmm, perfect…nothing better! As we ate our soup, we were brought a huge wooden bowl of fresh salad greens with only some mild oil on them with a bit of lemon juice, topped with a sprinkling of fresh-grated parmesan cheese. Nothing could have been more perfect!!! The salad was so tasty, so fresh, so tender and delicious that we ate every single leaf of it…too good to let anything go to waste. Fresh cookies for dessert.

We were told the meal schedules and when we had to be ready to leave tomorrow morning for the all-day Glacier Bay Cruise. Don is in heaven…the WiFi is good here, so he can read the news, follow his stock market stuff and catch up on everything he’s been missing for weeks. He immediately claims the table in our sunlit sitting room as his own.

TO BE CONTINUED…
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #112 on: August 09, 2013, 02:39:08 PM »
CONT’D. Friday July 26 through Sunday July 28, 2013      Days 59, 60, 61

As we climb into the Gustavus Inn van, Don asks Adrian how far it is to the inn from the little airfield. “Well, maybe about four-and-a-half minutes,” Adrian laughs. “Nothing in Gustavus is more than about four-and-a-half minutes away from anywhere else. It’s pretty small.”

In a jiffy we are there, turning into a drive and passing 2 enormous old spruce trees. Along the covered porch that makes an L around the frame cottage-style building are an assortment of bent-twig chairs with high backs and wicker sofas, all strewn with bright floral cushions. Everything looks so comfy I could live right there on that porch!

Adrian’s little tour of the Inn includes showing us the coffee counter in a corner of the dining room, with its big drawer of every conceivable kind of tea and a jar of local honey…coffee and tea are available 24/7.

After lunch, I head out to the gardens to inspect everything. My gosh, there’s a huge patch of 9-foot tall delphiniums! Holy cow! The dahlias and nasturtiums and sweet peas are big and gorgeous. The smells are heavenly. The rows of many kinds of lettuces look good enough to eat right out of the ground! Positioned all round the Inn are old barrels filled with flowers, along with an old brass samovar potted with flowers and an old rowboat filled with flowers. The railing of my little deck is held up by an old wooden wheel from a pioneer wagon, and off to the side of the deck is an old rusted horse-drawn thresher entwined with bright orange and yellow nasturtiums. Everywhere I see 5 or 6 different kinds of poppies, marigolds, huge snapdragons, asters, cosmos and roses.

Dave and his wife Jo Ann have owned the Gustavus Inn since the 1980s when they bought it from their parents, Sally and Jack Lesh, who moved here and ran the Inn since 1964. The Inn has been in business since the 1950s. The walls contain many old photos of the Lesh family and the Inn in its bygone days, as well as wonderful watercolor paintings by local artists and by Jo Ann Lesh…she’s a very accomplished artist.

Okay, I looked at my notes…lunch consisted of halibut chowder, fresh seed bread, that exquisite tender salad of 5-6 kinds of fresh greens with oil & vinegar dressing & grated parmesan cheese, topped off with a little plate of fresh frosted cupcakes. What a pleasure!

After lunch, we walked “to town,” which is all of 1 block away…called “the hub”…there’s an old gas station that sports ancient museum-quality pumps and that also houses the local museum, and at another corner a newer building that has a tiny general store and a combination art gallery & café.  About 20 yards beyond one corner is the Sunnyside Market, a tiny grocery. And about 50 yards beyond an opposite corner pretty much hidden in the woods, is the local liquor store, where I buy a bottle of cab for us to drink in our room.

Cocktails are at 5:30 with dinner at 6:30. We meet lots of wonderful people who’ve returned from their Glacier Bay cruises and from their days of fishing for salmon and halibut. In addition, we meet some folks who will be with us tomorrow on the glacier cruise, who arrived this afternoon. The Inn, which holds 26 people in 12 rooms, is full. Appetizers consist of pickled kelp salsa (a yummy treat made from freshly-harvested kelp gathered at the nearby cove!) with crackers. Dinner is fresh king crab for those who eat crab.  Hooray! I get fresh halibut fixed the Inn’s special way…an old Sally Lesh recipe called Halibut Caddy Ganty which I will surely fix many times in the future! Mashed garlic potatoes and fresh salad. We get a choice of brandy alexander pie or berry cobbler for dessert. Both are delicious.

After our leisurely dinner, some folks head into the library to play games. There’s another Scrabble fanatic here who wants to play Scrabble, but I’m bushed and not in the mood for games until late at night.  So I head to our room with a couple of the Inn’s books…one is an Alaskan photography book, the other is about Rie Munoz’s art, which I’ve loved for many years! Rie Munoz is a Juneau resident and has a gallery in Juneau, which I plan to visit when we return there.

Tomorrow is our Glacier Bay Cruise. I can’t wait. And so a wonderful day ends.

Saturday we’re up at 5, have a breakfast of eggs, bacon, thin little sourdough pancakes (incredibly delicious, almost like little crepes) with real maple syrup, plus orange juice and coffee at 6. The Inn also makes its own nicely roasted oat granola and has homemade rhubarb sauce and homemade yogurt to put on it. I’ll try that tomorrow.

Seven of us pile into the van at 6:40 heading for the dock inside Glacier Bay for our day-long cruise to see the glaciers at the head of the bay. The boat leaves at 7:30. The boat holds 50-60 people total; there are about 35 of us going today. Nice. Leaves room to move and see everything.

As we pull out we learn that the glaciers in the Fairweather Range get about 100” of snow each year. The glaciers in this area have retreated and returned 5-6 times in Glacier Bay over the last 600 to 700 years. The sun is out today (again!) so we’ve lucked out! Things are sparkling.

Along the way, our skipper clearly knows where the good places are to see wildlife, and she pulls into coves to check out the shorelines. A grizzly sow and her cubs are foraging on a shore. At another place we see a large male grizzly turning over gigantic 300-500 lb boulders at low tide to get at the crabs and other tiny edibles beneath. We see another sow and her cubs who head into the woods as they spot us. Above us, high on a rocky headland we spot 3 nanny mountain goats lying peacefully on high narrow ledges, each with a small fuzzy kid alongside.

A few minutes later, we spot 2 large humpback whales in the distance, their “blows” are visible but only the tip of a fin or tail. Minutes later, our skipper turns to port, approaching a large bunch of piled rocks on which are dozens of big stellar sea lions basking in the sun. Many birds are circling above and swimming around the rocks, including about a dozen wonderful orange-beaked puffins. Floating in the clumps of kelp on the water’s surface are dozens of sea otters, some with their little pups sitting on their bellies. Others are cracking shellfish on their chests, a characteristic behavior that is so fun to watch. It doesn’t get any better than this!

Proceeding to the glaciers at the north end of Glacier Bay, we spot another pair of puffins swimming in a small cove…this time the much-rarer horned puffins. Tarr Glacier is indeed tarry…absolutely pitch black with volcanic ash and glacial dirt churned to the surface of the glacier as it rolls downhill to the sea. This is surely NOT the way any of us picture glaciers…the photos always show the big glaciers as whitish with fresh snow and bright blue where the weight of the heavy snows has compressed the glacier into blue ice over hundreds of years.

The Grand Pacific Glacier is similarly quite dirty, though not black. This one is known for its size and its curious behavior of receding across the Canadian border then advancing again into the US over periods of ten years or so. It is one of the few glaciers in the world that is advancing in size and area right now.

Cruising over to the Margerie Glacier’s 200-foot-high snout wall, we get to view a glacier full of the vivid blue ice for which glaciers are known. We learn that it takes 150-200 years for the compressed snowfalls to move downward and reach the bay. The water is full of chunks of ice, large and small. No real icebergs of any great size, though. The boat’s crew uses a big bucket to retrieve 4 or 5 big chunks of clear blue ice from the water, which everybody handles to verify the extreme density of this ice, which takes many hours to melt.

We observe that one of the spiked towers of ice at the forefront of the glacier’s snout is beginning to lean forward more, so we’re eager to see and hear the glacier calve, as an enormous chunk of its ice breaks away and crashes into the sea with a huge roar, causing a large wave. We’re fairly close to the glacier, maybe a quarter-mile offshore. Minutes pass, the ice leans farther away from the snout, and we’re all holding our breaths. Suddenly, in a blink, the entire 300-foot-tall spire and the huge block of ice on which it rests collapse forward into the sea, the roar reverberating around the bay and causing a large underwater wave of above 6 or 8 feet that rolls broadly beneath our boat. Now there are 3 new big icebergs floating at the edge of the impressive Margerie. Pretty dramatic.

Our return trip to Gustavus has another adventure in store for us. About halfway down the bay, our skipper pulls into a cove along the west side of the main arm to pick up a group of 10 kayakers with a guide who’ve been out paddling and camping for 10 days on an adventure tour. The boat bumps directly onto a sandy beach, tosses out a line, and the campers plus guide fly into action loading their kayaks and duffel bags onto the bow of the boat. Interesting assortment of people. Don immediately starts working the new crowd to find out all the details of their trip.

During the all-day cruise, I spend a good deal of time at the railing of our boat with the wind in my hair and chatting with a lady frequently at the bow as well, who is at the Gustavus Inn with us. I met her last night during cocktails. We were both fascinated by the kelp salsa and how it’s made. Margaret P. turns out to be an absolute fountain of information about Glacier Bay and, in fact, all of Alaska. She lives about 8 miles north of Haines and is visiting the Inn for the first time in many years, in the company of her niece Diana and Diana’s husband Bart, both physicists who live in Alberta, Canada. Margaret is 88, single, and one of the most adventurous people I’ve surely ever met in my life.

Margaret has lived many different places, is largely self-educated, has worked at many different kinds of jobs, built houses to live in, grown her own food, written a well-respected book about early child development, hiked and paddled and hunted throughout Alaska, and has the twinkliest, liveliest eyes and personality I’ve ever encountered. She’s a jewel! Margaret migrated to Alaska in the late 1950s after getting her master’s degree in Calgary. Originally from Wales, she lived in London for a long time and then in the Highlands of Scotland (near Ayr) for 10 years, so she has a lilting brogue left over from the early years of her life.

Our chats while standing at the bow rail of our boat reveal that Margaret once spent an entire summer “paddling” the entire Glacier Bay and its East Arm in a kayak BY HERSELF, tent camping on beaches at night! That was in the early 1970s, for heaven’s sake, long before kayaking became a popular sport and long before long-distance camping “adventures” became the craze they are today. She tells me she never gave one second of thought to the possibility of bear attacks or to fears of being in the wilderness by herself. What a gal! What a pioneer! What an inspiration!

Margaret tells me she had the most wonderful time that summer she paddled Glacier Bay, both its large main channel and the long narrow East Arm, meeting lots of natives and sometimes staying with them in their villages, watching wildlife on land and sea, and fishing for her food plus eating berries and root-plants that she collected and prepared for herself. She began and ended her “paddle” at the Gustavus Inn…she was friends with Sally and Jack Lesh, parents of the Inn’s current owner. She had met Sally in Haines when Sally was visiting friends there.

Margaret had a stroke 2 years ago and as a result has a bit of difficulty thinking of and articulating certain words when she is conversing. No problem for me…I figured out right away how to coax Margaret to remember the right words, because she is aphasic exactly like my Mom was after her strokes years ago. We had such a great time together!  When Margaret was telling me a story about her past and couldn’t think of or say a word she wanted to say, she’d smack her forehead with the palm of her hand, and I’d do a free-association game type of thing with her until we figured out the word, and she’d go merrily on with her story. Worked like a charm. (After a while, even Diana and Bart figured out how to play this guessing game with her, which was a comfortably way to get everybody to relax and josh their way through these frustrating moments, and which facilitated their conversations a lot, too.)

To support herself over the years, Margaret has worked as a commercial fisherman for 8 years, doing long-line trolling for salmon by herself in Icy Strait “in an old wooden boat that was always sinking,” she laughed. She would often stay out for 15 to 18 hours at a stretch, until her lines were full of fish and she could reel them in and return to Haines. At other times, she drove a bus, and hiked the entire Chilkoot Trail taken by the gold-rushers in the 1890s.

When I joined Don in a conversation with two of the young kayakers who had come aboard, I learned both of them are artists who hope to make a living at creating art. Caius (pronounced Kie-uss—as in the name of Caius Caesar) is Greek, and has a classic Greek profile and curly hair that makes me want to do a drawing of his head and face. His girlfriend Jenna is a cute blond. We have fun talking art for a while.

On the way home, the van that picked us up at the cruise dock drops Don & me off along the road leading to the Gustavus Inn at a spot where a short road leads to Carole Baker’s little gallery. The gallery is open today from 3 to 5, a sign said, and I’m determined to take a look at Carole’s watercolors despite the clock warning us that it’s 4:55 pm when we jump out of the van. The Leshes have a half-dozen of Carole’s paintings hanging at the Inn, and they’re very nicely done, so I want to see her gallery nearby. We hustle down a dirt road towards Carole’s house, finally coming a very small wooden building about 10 x 10 in size, weathered grey cedar with a green metal roof and peeling red paint in a few places. A tiny carved sign hangs by a narrow chain over the steps, saying Gallery. The door is locked. Oh darn!  Don says “I told you so! This was a dumb idea so late in the day.”

I notice right away a woman is picking berries in the field behind this little cabin. To Don’s dismay, I call out to her, asking if by any chance she is Carole Baker who does watercolors. She answers with a big smile on her face that no, she is not Carole, but she’ll give Carole a quick cell-phone call to get her back here, because she locked up and left only minutes ago for her house. Carole, who is my age, quickly returned, opened her gallery, and I took a look around, chatting with Carole all the while. She and Jo Ann Lesh have been friends for years, and have painted together many times, she tells me. Carole is self-taught and has been painting most of her life, nearly all of which has been here at Gustavus. She does lovely watercolors, mostly landscapes, in a delicate hand. I bought one, plus a couple of cards containing prints of her paintings.

This was a long day of cruising, walking and seeing. Our walk back to the Inn left us perspiring…the sun was bright and the weather quite hot, a rare event at Gustavus we hear. The hot shower before cocktails and dinner felt awfully good! Appetizers our second night were baked flatbreads with homemade pesto made with basil and roasted garlic from the Inn’s garden, plus marinara sauce for anybody who wanted to add it. The roasted garlic pesto by itself was super-tasty on those crunchy flatbreads. Dinner was grilled rockfish with family-style dishes of sautéed fresh kale and roasted new potatoes. A fresh green salad was also served. Dessert was a choice of grasshopper pie or wild-strawberry chocolate torte (wild strawberries in fresh whipped cream, spread between two layers of chocolate sponge cake and then slathered on top as well…the bottom layer of chocolate cake had a layer of dark chocolate buttercream that made the whole concoction even dreamier!).
Sunday -- Our pillow-top bed with its fluffy down comforter felt especially good after 15 hours of activity. We slept in the next morning, making it to the dining room just in time to beat the 9:30 am deadline for breakfast. Others did the same thing, we noticed!  We headed out for some long walks to get our exercise before lunch at the Inn followed by our 2 pm flight back to Juneau.

Lunch was creamy thick kale soup, once again with a big basket of fresh-baked bread and cheeses on the side, plus a huge bowl of fresh fruit salad with sprigs of fresh mint in it. Fresh cookies for dessert.

We’re off in the van to the airfield and our short flight back to Juneau. I’m sad to leave the Gustavus Inn. Sally Lesh made this place comfortable and memorable, with great food, and David and Jo Ann have succeeded marvelously at continuing the tradition! I wish I could stay 2 weeks. I’d paint every day. It’s glorious here. I purchase both of Sally Lesh’s memoirs before leaving, knowing I’m going to love reading them. (Lunch at Toad Road and All My Houses.)

Anybody who gets to Juneau, Haines or Skagway should come here for at least a few days! It fits like an old loafer, and is so incredibly friendly. Gustavus Inn is a throwback to “the old days”…the real sign of that is guests don’t receive any room keys! Rooms are never locked! It’s as if you’re at a favorite old cottage. Sally Lesh said years ago that she wanted a visit to her Inn to feel as if it is a visit to granny’s cottage. Yes!

And for a foodie like me, Gustavus Inn is heaven on earth! Everything is impeccably fresh, prepared simply and perfectly, served family-style and just perfect! I can see why many of Dave and Jo Ann’s guests return year after year for a week or two at a time. I’d come back here in a blink, preferably for two weeks…I’d paint every day, and take long walks. That’s all, and that would be enough!
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #113 on: August 10, 2013, 10:46:47 AM »
Afternoon of Sunday, July 28 and
All Day, Monday July 29 and Tuesday July 30, 2013      Days 62 & 63

Back in Juneau after our blissful stay at Gustavus Inn, we knew we needed to avoid fattening food for a while…carbs are out, fish and salads are in for Don & Susie. OK with us!

My research notes showed that the drive to Mendenhall Glacier from our RV park would be worthwhile, so after taking a taxi back to Spruce Meadow from the airport, we unhooked Rollin Home and headed up the mountain to the glacier viewing area for a late-day adventure. We have only one more day in Juneau before moving south on the ferries.

Each day, dozens of packed tour buses take groups to Mendenhall, so the roads and the walkways are mobbed. We were headed there at 6 pm… parking lots were empty and walking paths virtually deserted. We explored a bit, tramping out to the lake to view icebergs floating lazily on the chalky-blue water, which was mirror-calm. Several of the bergs were enormous, with lots of vivid blue ice crevices. Bigger and better than we saw at Glacier Bay, near Margerite or any other the other big glaciers there.

A few families of local folks were walking the boardwalk paths out along the Mendenhall River, so we followed them to see what we could see. Before long, everyone stopped and was looking up…two fuzzy black bear cubs up high in a nearby tree, each one cuddled into a crotch, paws hanging down, sleeping peacefully. Turning the other direction and moving a few steps farther along the walkway, we saw mama bear, a big black sow, fishing for her dinner. She was flopping, stomping and eagerly going after pink salmon swimming upstream to spawn. She missed a few, kept trying, and got a big salmon, probably a good sockeye, holding it in her mouth and going ashore to hold it on a rock surface and chomp away.

She repeated this show several more times, then disappeared for a few minutes, re-emerging on a path that passed only two feet away from the walkway’s railings, extending her nose into the air and sniffing curiously, I think in an effort to locate her cubs sleeping in the tree about 30 feet away from us. She made a few sounds and down they came, at which point she led them home for the night. What a good nature show!

Our final days in Juneau, we went to the Rie Munoz Gallery close to where we were staying…a very unpretentious location and unassuming building, given how famous Munoz has become over the years for her colorful depictions of lively Native life in Alaska. I spent a good 2 hours looking at everything and conversing with a guy who has worked for Munoz since 1987. I ended up buying a book of her designs, and a couple of small prints that were well-priced.

We filled up with diesel fuel at Fred Meyer and got our usual 15-cent discount from the asking price, using the points we had accumulated on our Value Card. That would be the last reasonably-priced fuel we’d see until getting to the Lower 48, and maybe until returning home, we knew. We stocked up with a few more jugs of water and some staples for the larder to hold us over while taking the ferry through the Southeast…I didn’t expect grocery stores in Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell or Ketchikan to be any great shakes in terms of great produce or reasonable prices, given their need to import everything from Outside.

We also ran an errand to Fred’s Auto, where Don wanted to talk with a guy, and had him change our Rollin Home’s air filter, since we’d driven through so much mud and dust along the way. A good thing to have done at this point in our trip. Also stopped at the Western Auto store, for some “stuff” we needed…little jobs to cross tasks off our To Do lists.

Then, at end of day Tuesday, we hustled back out to Eagle Beach, where we took our easy chairs out of the back storage, started the grill and grilled fresh sockeye salmon for dinner. We ate like royalty while sipping our wine and watching a most-gorgeous sunset far into the evening. All the while, we got an eyeful seeing eagles do what eagles do, on the beaches and in the air! At last, after 68 years of wanting to see eagles, I am beginning to feel as if I’m getting my “eagle-fix”.

This was a fitting end to our on-and-off stays in Juneau. We may not like downtown Juneau – the “old Juneau” – very much, but we sure like the north side of town, out The Road!
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #114 on: August 10, 2013, 10:49:25 AM »
Wednesday July 31 through Friday August 2, 2013      Days 64-66

The alarm woke us at 5:30 so we would have plenty of time to shower, fix breakfast, eat and have our tea, and do the emptying tanks /unhooking tasks before getting in line at the ferry dock by 8:30. Our ferry to Sitka leaves at 10, for a 4 ½-hour cruise to Sitka, where we’ll spend 3 nights.

This is really the beginning of our exploration of Southeast, as Alaskans call the archipelago of coastal islands extending from the Glacier Bay area all the way south to Canada. Skagway is the farthest northern part of the “Alaskan temperate rainforest,” as its known, though Skagway gets the least rain and feels very little like a rainforest. As we move south to Haines, Juneau and now Sitka, we’ll feel increased humidity and experience much more fog and drippiness and mist every day.

Although we have many more experiences ahead of us, I feel sad to be starting this fifth distinct phase of our 2013 Great Alaskan Adventure. I don’t want this wonderful trip to end, ever! My senses are alive, I’m “floating” the way one should on a great journey/vacation, and we’re simply experiencing Alaska in a way I hardly thought possible.

In my mind, Phase 1 was the US National Parks up through Montana and Wyoming, and up into Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Phase 2 was the Alcan, aka the Alaska Highway, driving for miles and miles through tunnels of trees in utter desolation, mountains and lakes in view at times, very few towns ever, while imagining the troops and construction workers during WWII plowing through the muskeg and bulldozing a million trees as they forged their way to “the top,” fighting off clouds of mosquitoes, wading through hip-deep mud and enduring punishing weather all the way. Every one of them deserved a Bronze Star for their efforts!

Phase 3 was our drive around Alaska, entering at Tok, exploring the central part of Alaska and going to Anchorage, then down to the Kenai Peninsula and all around Alaska’s jewel of ocean fishing. Phase 4 started when we took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Whittier to Juneau, a long cruise across the Gulf of Alaska, and our ferry trips to Skagway and Haines, plus our flight to Gustavus and our stay at the Gustavus Inn. Now we’re embarking on Phase 5, to experience the “old Russian” part of Alaska in Sitka and Petersburg, then proceed on to Wrangell and Ketchikan.

In Sitka, we’re staying 3 nights at the Sitka Sportsman’s Association RV Park practically adjacent to the ferry dock, so it’s a quick trip from the ferry and into our spot. Somehow I had the idea that this would be close to downtown Sitka, which it's definitely not; and I hoped there might be a local shuttle we could use, which there’s definitely not. A bus runs infrequently and costs $2 per person per ride, coins only. Almost as bad as having to do laundry, with a bunch of quarters at the ready.

We are parked looking directly out at the water, with a green lawn in front of us. The RVs are very close together, and the park is small, but it’s okay. Nothing special. But there are people here whom we met at an RV park in Haines, so it’s fun reuniting with them and sharing stories of our adventures.

My research notes say that a meal at the Larkspur Café is in order, for their superb creamy salmon chowder. So that’s where we go at midafternoon, for late lunch / early dinner, on the waterfront, downtown. We’ll also take a walk around town, see the old Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the center of town, get the lay of the land, and decide what we want to return to another day. The super-creamy chowder, at $8 a bowl, turns out to be all potatoes and chunks of veggies, and almost no salmon. Clearly these folks are not acquainted with making good fish stock as the base for their chowder…what we eat has virtually no salmon taste at all. This place is living on its past laurels. And it doesn’t live up to its billing at all.

We have very good weather the whole time we’re in Sitka. We visit a few shops and galleries. We drove out to the Sitka Totem Park at Totem Point, and spent several hours walking all the trails throughout the point to view the old totem poles throughout the park. Along the trail, we stop to view the river where salmon are running…the water is literally black with layer upon layer of salmon, a veritable carpet of salmon, so thick is each pool of the river that a person could almost walk across their backs. It’s amazing to see this “black puddle” of salmon waiting to go upstream, so thick and packed together you wonder how they can even breathe or get enough oxygen to stay alive.

Another day in Sitka, we drove out to the Raptor Center and spent several hours there, viewing the raptors being rehabbed following injuries. It’s particularly interesting watching the eagles flying from branch to branch in the large Raptor Flight Retraining Center. They have quite a collection of owls, too.

Almost nobody bothers to take the nature trail at the Raptor Center outside of Sitka. Too bad. Most people leave right after the tour has ended, but Don and I took the whole nature trail and had a wonderful time. The trail goes through a very old-growth forest with enormous trees, and some rotted stumps 15 to 20 feet in diameter that are acting as “nurse stumps” for new growth. The place is full of beautiful moss and lichens.

We wanted to visit the Fortress of the Bear as well, but road construction deterred us. We opted not to drive gravel roads and wait a long time for pilot cars to get us through one-lane work stretches on the way out there. People told us it was wonderful. But we don’t feel we need to see everything and go to every tourist attraction. We just wander around, “float” in our own fashion, and experience the feel of each place.

We drove out past the ferry dock toward End of the Road to see what was there. Interesting trip, nice views. Don was reluctant to hike any of the trail I had directions for because of bears along all the trails while the salmon are running.

Sitka has some interesting commercial fishing harbors. I definitely like commercial fishing harbors right downtown…they give a place character! The one place we didn’t go that I wanted to visit was Tommy Joseph’s totem carving studio behind the Russian Cathedral…he’s one of the most famous younger Tlingits doing terrific carvings…we just ran out of time.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #115 on: August 10, 2013, 12:41:01 PM »
ADDITION TO SITKA, JULY 31 THROUGH AUGUST 3:
I forgot to report that we tried our best to have lunch or dinner at Ludvig's Bistro along the waterfront by the cannery docks in Sitka while we were there...my friend Margie and her husband Kent so loved Ludvig's (Mediterranean fare) when they visited Sitka last year that they ate there 3 times in 3 days. Hence, I had made a special note to eat there while we were in Sitka! But alas, each time we tried to go there, it was closed...doesn't open until 4:30, and we were usually headed back to our park by then. We did eat at Kenny's Wok a few doors up the street, though, and the sweet-and-sour Chinese reminded us of our days back in the 60s shortly after we met in downtown Chicago, chowing down at our local neighborhood Chinese joint, Wing Yee's. I guess we'll have to visit Petersburg again sometime to eat at Ludvig's.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

SaltyAdventurer

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #116 on: August 10, 2013, 01:16:45 PM »
Saturday Aug. 3 and Sunday Aug. 4, 2013      Days 67 & 68

Up at 5 am again, to check in and line our Rollin Home up for the ferry from Sitka to Petersburg by 6:30. Ugh. I’m loving these ferry legs of the trip, but I’m beginning to hate these early departures. Feels like getting up in the middle of the night, now that we’re retired and accustomed to rising at 7 or 8 or even later. How did we ever get up at 5 or 5:30 every day to go to work?

This ferry trip is almost 13 hours long, so I got us a 4-berth cabin, thinking we’d go back to bed and sleep for a few more hours. On each ferry trip, especially the long ones, I pack a goodie-bag for us with snacks, stuff for a real meal (some cold cuts, cheese, bread, mustard), apples, etc. For these long trips, I also always take along a couple of bowls, a jar of our pre-mixed oatmeal (old-fashioned oats, oat bran and raisins), spoons, and some teabags, so we can have tea without spending a fortune. We’ve learned quickly that obtaining unlimited hot water in the cafeteria for fixing cereal and for tea costs nothing. For the trips when we have cabins, we throw together a bag with pajamas and pillows as well, along with clean underwear and sometimes a change of T-shirts so we can feel fresh after napping and taking a shower. When we get cabins, it’s the shower that really feels good!

We hit the sack immediately upon getting on the ferry and reaching our cabin, and slept soundly for a few more hours. Nice. Showered and went up to walk the deck for a while…we did 9 laps (3/4 of a mile) and it felt great. We saw lots of humpback whale spouts (“blows” of air as the whales surface to gulp oxygen before they dive again).

As we completed our walk around the deck, we spoke with a couple of crew members who were taking a break. It turned out that one of the guys was at the wheel of the Matanuska ferry 7 years ago when it was bound from Kodiak to Whittier and encountered the two huge rogue waves! Hearing him tell the story made it even more real for us!

The experience literally scared the crap out of this guy, who swore afterwards he’d never take that route again, especially at the wheel of a ferry! He immediately asked for a transfer and is now on much more sheltered runs of the ferries, in narrower channels where there are islands and a lot of land within sight. He said there were 2 huge rogue waves that followed each other by about 3 minutes, each about 50 feet tall and both big enough to sink the ship. He said the hours without any power after the safety switches cut all power and closed all hatches and doors were very frightening, as the ferry wallowed in the high seas.

Petersburg is on Mitkof Island, a very small fishing community that retains its character as part of the old Alaska. The ferry terminal is about a mile from the town’s center, which isn’t much, really. A lot of churches along Church St., as usual…the old Lutheran church, the old Catholic church on the hill, the old Presbyterian church, the old Russian Orthodox church, the old Mormon church, the old Baptist church…all the religions were here and must have scrapped mightily to win over the Tlingit natives to their various sects.

Our RV park in Petersburg is about 10 miles out of town to the south along Mitkof Highway at The Trees, a very nice place where we feel as if we’re in the wilderness. Quiet at night, and not many bugs, either, despite being in the rainforest. This is a Good Sam park with pretty big spaces and good hookups…I’m glad we’re staying here.

The Trees, by the way, is small…only about 13 sites…so if you’re planning to come here it's a good idea to have an advance reservation. Larry and Becky Dunham, the owners, have put a lot of money into this place in recent years. Their nice little General Store is used by a lot of locals, and they have a liquor store as well, so we bought a 6-pack of beer for Don and I was able to replenish our snack supply.

Petersburg is known as Little Norway, and has lots of blond-haired folks living in it. I also knew from my research that you can get smoked fish here that is some of the best in all Alaska, at some of the best prices, from the canneries and smokeries along the waterfront, since few if any big cruise ships come here.  Hence, the town is uncrowded, has nice little shops, including the Hammer & Wikan empire that includes an entire city block consisting of about 6 different stores, hardware to gifts to clothing to Norwegian stuff.

Hammer & Wikan’s clothing store had a great sale going on hand-knit Norwegian ski sweaters, ornamented with the traditional silver clasps and front zippers. But I resisted…we don’t have any space in which to put more clothing, and I just knew Don would freak out if I succumbed to the lure of those beautiful sweaters.

I stopped and priced the packages of smoked fish at Tonka Seafoods along Sing Lee Alley, which is lined with historic old places. Crossing the wooden bridge, there is a huge building with fancy painted shutters and a big old Viking ship sitting on the plaza alongside – the historic Sons of Norway hall. Very picturesque.

We had smoked salmon and halibut burgers for lunch at Coastal Cold Storage on the main street, very good! And I bought a couple of very large halibut filets, frozen, to grill when we’re in Olympic National Park with Al & Susan…Coastal’s prices on halibut were very good. We also ate a late breakfast one day at Coastal, toasted bagels with cream cheese topped with a heap of nicely smoked salmon…a delicious combo!

Petersburg has a really nice bookstore along Sing Lee Alley, where we stopped, never able to resist a bookstore! They didn’t have either of the books I was looking for, but I bought a book about Ada Blackjack, an Eskimo woman who was the only survivor of an Arctic Expedition in the 1930s.

No hordes of cruise ship people here, which is nice.  We liked Petersburg quite well. Outside Coastal, we met a couple who have lived here almost 40 years. He is a fishing skipper who was recruited as a young man to work for the local fishery/cannery. They’ve loved raising their kids in Petersburg and have done well here.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

Dean & Linda Stock

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #117 on: August 10, 2013, 07:23:08 PM »
We haven't had WiFi for a few days, and I really enjoyed catching up with you--especially your wildlife adventures.  I'm so glad you are having a wonderful time!
Dean and Linda Stock
and Sherlock (the cat)
Cypress, CA
2006 Airstream Motor Home
2006 Jeep Liberty (Towed)

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #118 on: August 12, 2013, 04:24:50 PM »
Monday Aug. 5 through Thursday Aug. 8, 2013   Days 69 through 72

Monday, Aug. 5 we have a few hours to kill before taking the 3:15 pm ferry to Wrangell, a 3 ¼-hour trip that gets us in about 7:15-7:30 in the evening. I’ve read in several places before we left Colorado that this ferry journey from Petersburg to Wrangell is one of the most beautiful routes in the world, and certainly THE most beautiful in all Alaska, through island-studded channels, narrow fjords, and straits filled with whales and other wildlife. So we are eager.

I take another walk around Petersburg to get my 4 lbs of cold-smoked salmon at Tonka Seafoods, since I’ve decided they have the best salmon at the best prices. I also wander into a little place called Diamante, a strange little store that has some new stuff for sale, some used stuff, some collectibles, a few antiques and generally quite an interesting collection of junk. I end up buying a great T-shirt with Tlingit symbols on the front and back designating “The chief of the seas.” Oh good, I like that! Black shirt with nice color of brown symbols front and back. Not too gaudy, nothing saying Alaska all over the place, and made by the Natives. I also find, of all things, a set of 6 hand-painted Marion Hadley pottery coasters there, at the ridiculously low price of $20 for the set…they match a couple of big casseroles I have from my Mom that are Marion Hadley pottery, and my old “Susan” mug from Hadley that I was given at birth by a friend of Mom’s (so it’s 68 years old now!). I bought them, making the store’s owner very happy indeed. Anywhere else, these probably would have cost $75, and they’re in perfect condition. Who would’ve thunk it?

We returned to Coastal Cold Storage, the fish joint, to have a salmon wrap and a halibut burger for lunch and got in line for the ferry.

The Great Alaska Adventure has so far surely lived up to our expectations. Today on the ferry we saw dozens of whale spouts along the way, prompting passengers to rush from their seats to one side and then the other to see the humpbacks. We saw tails come up, but no good breaches or playful antics. The views are spectacular, but I have to say I’m becoming somewhat jaded…perhaps I’ve OD’ed on spectacular vistas, and wildlife. Maybe I’m just getting tired of being on the road, moving from place to place, instead of in one spot for a week or more. Strangely, when someone sees a whale spout and calls out, I no longer jump up eagerly to see it through my binoculars. Another whale spout is just another whale spout, that same as a bear on a beach became just another bear doing its thing on a beach. However, I never seem to tire of seeing eagles, and my head swivels constantly when we are anywhere near places where the eagles might be roosting in nearby trees.

The sense both Don and I have at this point is that with this type of RV travel we have gained a real and lasting sense of the incredible vastness of Alaska, which never seems to end. Everything in Alaska is bigger than you imagine it could be before coming here.
Everywhere you look, you see gigantic mountains of rock, volcanic and upthrust. In the distances, everywhere you gaze, are layers upon layers of high mountains receding in the mist. The forests are thick and endless, their verdancy almost smothering with layers of green lushness. Meadows are brilliant colors of orange, yellow and green, strewn with huge old logs left from the days when these same meadows were resting beneath glaciers Alaska reaches out and touches you with the tangible sense of the hundreds of thousands of years it took to form this land. You literally feel its antiquity and wildness as you walk in Alaska. It makes you feel very small and at the same time gives you a powerful sense of your place in the vast circle of nature and time.

The ferry trip was made all the more interesting when we saw another large Alaska Marine Highway ferry approaching from the south just as we were entering the narrowest part of the strait, where the ferry literally zigzags back and forth about 15 times from marker to marker. I’m sure this is a mistake having another ferry here at the same time…the strait is too narrow for 2 large boats to pass each other safely. I mention this to the Forest Service Ranger who is aboard offering commentary and she exclaims that this has never happened before in her years taking this route! I go outside and question a crew member about this coincidence, and he says it’s never happened in his 20 years working this route for AMHS, either.

Everyone is outdoors along the railing watching what will happen when the 2 ships try to pass each other…at low tide, yet! My view through the binocs indicates the other ship has sped up to full hull speed and is coming on as quickly as possible, making unusually large bow waves. Meanwhile, we’ve slowed down, and I suddenly notice our skipper tucking us in behind a big red marker where he apparently knows there’s a deep pool of water big enough to hold our ship. He uses the bow and stern thrusters and holds us in place with great skill, and we see the ongoing ferry slow down a bit as it zigzags through this thread-the-needle passage between islands, where the shoals probably change weekly as the result of heavy currents and tides.

The other large ferry ship slips by us just a couple of yards away from our starboard rail. No problem, man! The entire crew is outdoors waving madly at us, as are the passengers. Everybody aboard our ferry responds in kind with whoops and waves. The skippers salute each other with short blasts of their horns. What a fun event!

The remaining trip seems boring after that bit of excitement. We pull into Wrangell at about 8 pm. Wrangell, we are told, is “the friendliest little town in the Southeast.” Whether or not that is true, we’ll have to find out later, but it is surely one of the prettiest towns to come into by ferry. The ferry dock is right downtown; the houses on the whore and uphill seem freshly painted and are a range of bright and pastel colors. For a fishing town, Wrangell seems much less ramshackle than other places we’ve been. A huge new house is framed and unfinished on a hill just north of the ferry docks.

We drive the 5 miles or so to our parking spot for the night, north of town at Shoemaker Bay, a tiny spot for RVs that is offered by the city of Wrangell. This is the only RV camping spot here, other than one commercial rv park which we’ve read is really the pits, so we’re avoiding that one. At this place, we’ll have Electric hookups only, no water or sewer. We had put about 2/3 of a tankful of water into our RH this morning, knowing that we’d need it tonight. This is certainly an unconventional RV spot…about 6 half-gravel, half-lawn sites at angles along a little bluff at water’s edge, with some big spruce trees, some lawns between the sites, and old rickety picnic tables. Hmmm.  Two sets of friends with trucks towing fairly long trailers are with us and it’s quite apparent they will need the 2 spots towards the top of the hill, which are long enough for their trailers to fit into. So we move on down the hill to look at the other 4 sites…none looks level, all look a bit worse for wear. We pick the one that looks least bad and I get out to direct Don into the site; we are sure we’ll have to get the blocks out and use them to level our RV for the night because of the slope.

Twice we get Rollin Home backed into place; twice we put blocks under her front wheels to level her. Strange. It doesn’t work…she doesn’t get level, she gets more un-level. Hmmm.  This is a very strange site with strange opposing slopes. So we pull her out again, take her down the hill a bit farther to park for a bit, while Don & I walk the sites to get a good sight-line of where we could best park our rig for a couple of days here. Before long, we’ve figured out where things look smoothest, get her backed in again, and she’s actually the most level we’ve been able to achieve, even without any blocks under any wheels. Great! Not perfectly level, but close enough! We go outside to find some little “markers” in the form of twigs or stones or pieces of plastic or something to place alongside each of the 4 wheels so that we can get her back into position again each time we return here. This is a good exercise for us, believe it or not! We’ve had it so easy all the way along.

This place is cheap enough…$25 a night for the 30-amp electricity, which is fine. We are instructed to go to the city-operated marine next door to the south for garbage dumpsters, fresh water if we need it, outhouses if we need them, and to dump sewage after our stay. Unfortunately, the marine is anything but fancy, and the gravel areas need the sewage dump and the fresh water hose are ungraded, and filled with water from recent heavy rains…i.e., huge mud-puddles. Yuck. Four nights of this?  Oh well, we’ll try to enjoy the fact that it’s quiet and relatively secluded.

Middle of the first night, we awaken to heavy pounding rain on the roof. All night and into the morning. Colder, too. Still raining heavily in the morning when we’re dressed, have eaten and are ready to go somewhere.

Interestingly, paying for our site at the town-operated RV park entitles us to use of the town’s Olympic-sized swimming pool at the local high school, located on our way into town. Oh good, I thought! BUT…it turns out the pool is closed for 3 weeks in August for cleaning and repairs, prior to school starting again. Oh, bad! Foiled again.

We decide to head downtown to walk around, case the place, confirm our trip to all-day boat trip to Anan Wildlife Observatory to see bears tomorrow, and float from there. It’s still raining hard as we walk around town, noting that most of the stores are empty or boarded up. There are a couple of tiny restaurants. Two good-sized supermarkets quite close together, which is quite odd for a small town like this.

There’s a nice little art gallery I wander through, near the dock where the ferry pulls in, owned by Brenda Schwartz, an artist whose work shows u in quite a few shops around Alaska. She has done some very good watercolors, and found a style that sold well years ago when she began doing paintings on sailor’s navigational charts of Alaskan waters. Her daughter is staffing the shop today. I buy a couple of cards with prints of Brenda’s paintings.

We find a clean, good-sized laundromat down past the local fish cannery. Because we had nothing really planned for the day, and we have a big bag of dirty laundry, I told Don I’d take the clothes to the laundromat while he went to the town library to use the Internet if he’d like. A deal! I made lunch in the RH, we shared a picnic, then Don dropped me off. He’ll come back for me in a couple of hours. I’m happy reading my book.

As I unload our laundry bag and sort the clothes for 2 washer-loads full, a thin gray-haired woman pops her head in the door to let me know there’s some kind of big Native Tlingit ceremony or celebration taking place at the native meeting hall about a half-block away, in a half-hour. Hmmm. I’d like to go but don’t want to leave my loads of clothes unattended, and I have no idea how long this event will last. So I decide I’ll skip it.

At the Laundromat, I meet a lady named Sheila from Palmer, Alaska, who has just moved to Wrangell with her husband. He is a commercial fisherman and recently bought his own long-line trolling boat, to fish for salmon and rockfish. Sheila and her husband Tom have 4 grown children and have worked at office jobs their whole adult lives, until now. Tom decided he really wanted to be out on the water. So they sold their house in Palmer to pay for the boat. They’re living aboard the fishing boat here in Wrangell and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future when they’re here. Tom plans to keep his job on the North Slope for at least 3-5 years; his job on the Slope takes him there for 2 weeks at a time; he and Sheila will be in Wrangell for the two weeks following his return. She’ll fish with him as his assistant on the boat. So far, she says, she likes this new life.

With Sheila doing big bags of laundry is Lily, a young woman who is “the girlfriend,” as she says, of Sheila’s youngest son. Lily is petite and has huge brown eyes, long auburn hair and a light, high, lilting voice that rings throughout the room as she hums continuously while loading washers, unloading dryers and folding clothes. She’s home for a year working to save money to go back to college in Florida, she tells me, where she’s majoring in vocal performance. She’s here for a few days with Sheila and Tom’s son, staying on the boat, helping Tom with some heavy-duty mechanical tasks on the boat’s engine. Then they’ll return to Anchorage where they live and work.

Lily tells me she has no idea at all what she’ll do with her degree in vocal performance in Alaska if and when she gets it. Her boyfriend, Sheila and Tom’s son, isn’t attending college. They’ve been living together for two years, minus the time she was at college in Florida. She’s part native Athabascan, but grew up outside Anchorage in a family that “lived modern,” as she put it.

Don and I distribute our clean and folded laundry among our various drawers and bins. It’s always so nice to have clean clothes and clean towels for the next 2-3 weeks. It’s still grey and drippy when we get back the Rollin Home back to the RV park, but we take a walk anyway, around the marina next door. The rain jackets are coming in handy.

The sun is shining and air is clear the following morning when we open the curtains. Oh great!! No rain!  But we hear big semis roaring past, up and down the adjacent road. We spot graders, flagmen, rollers, the huge equipment that lays down asphalt. Yipes! Road repairs are taking place all day today right where we are, which either means lots of sticky asphalt on our vehicle plus long waits for single-lane passage for 5 miles, or we stay put here and go nowhere, with plenty of noise for most of the day. Well, we need a day of sitting and reading, and walking around, anyway. What the heck.

Don goes out and talks to the guys doing the roadwork. They started at 6 this morning a mile out beyond where we are parked, and they intend to work until dark tonight, to get as much roadway repaved as possible. The season for repairs is really short in Alaska, you know. These guys work incredibly hard all day, with almost no breaks, and they are magnificently efficient. A small crew of guys repaves a single lane of more than 3 miles of road in a day, removing old pavement, fixing shoulders and repairing culverts, putting down new pavement, rolling it and finishing it.

At dinnertime, we head out…only to find that everything in town is completely shut down. Wrangell gets the ferries of AMHS but gets no large cruise ships and only a rare few smaller cruise boats. Hence, shops and cafes are open only intermittently, and when they are, only for the hours cruise passengers are invading the town. Then they close, unable to afford to remain open if there’s little customer traffic. We’ve seen this in every town of the Southeast, from Skagway south. Everything is quiet by 6 pm when passengers are back aboard their ship for dinner; every town just goes to sleep. The only place open for dinner is the Stikine Hotel dining room, which has a nice deck looking out over the water. People are there…we decide to have dinner on their deck. Price are the usual exorbitant amounts for burgers ($10-$12) and very high for any salmon or halibut ($22-$32). We share a burger and a caesar salad.

We have to be up early tomorrow morning for our boat trip out to the Anan Wildlife Observatory (pronounced Ann-Ann, with the emphasis on the first Ann), so we head back and hit the sack by 9.  We heard a repeat of the pounding rain all night, but hoped it would end by morning.

It didn’t. The weather is not very cold, but boy, is it wet! We take a number of layers of fleeces, etc. for warmth if we need it, and put our rain gear on over everything. The boat leaves late…10 am instead of 8:45 am, because of the heavy rain and lack of visibility on the water. Anan, we learn, is an hour away from Wrangell by jetboat. It is staffed by National Forest Service naturalists and biologists. Only 60 permits a day are available for visitors to Anan.

The Anan River was a Tlingit native fishcamp site for a thousand years, as the pinks and sockeyes swam upstream each summer to spawn. The natives coexisted with the bears there, which also fish madly to fatten themselves for winter. This is the only place in the world where black bears and brown bears (grizzlies) share territory and share a fishing stream. The two types of bears hate each other, and generally the brown bears will kill all the black bears that try to come into their territory. At Anan, blacks and browns are almost never at the river’s prime fishing pools at the same time, but each species is there part of the time.

Our so-called jetboat is a 22-foot heavy aluminum skiff with a roof and cover on it, 2 benches along the gunnels for passengers, and an inboard engine. It’s noisy but does the job, and keeps us relatively dry during the ride over. Our skipper drives the boat right up onto a gravel beach, and a crew member jumps out to hold the boat while the 6 of us paying passengers scramble out…the trick is to sit on the edge of the boat’s bow, swing your feet over and jump off the boat onto the beach…without going into the water and getting good and wet (or wetter!). We’re informed there is an outhouse available down here near the beach that we can use if we want to, before going up the boardwalk, or we can use the outhouse available at the top of the boardwalk.

There’s a hitch…it’s a long hike up the boardwalk to the viewing platforms. And another hitch…if you choose to wait and use the “upper outhouse” you will be taken to the outhouse by a guide carrying a loaded and cocked rifle, and you might get stuck in the outhouse for a while if a bear happens to come along and stand on the walkway for a while. No one disturbs the bears! This is their territory, not ours! Needless to say, everybody uses the lower outhouse before heading out on the trail.

The boardwalk is a marvel of engineering for more than a mile up and over and down and around and across and through an incredible rainforest. But, luxurious and easy, it ain’t! And it IS very tricky, especially for somebody like me with past injuries and walking sticks who doesn’t dare to slip and fall, or make a misstep. The boardwalk is a mere 12 inches wide and because it is constantly wet, it is covered with extremely slippery moss. The Forest Service added a layer of wire mesh 8 inches wide along the boardwalk and on all of its steps a few years ago, but it remains a bit treacherous. The most steps we ever had was about 10 up or down in a singe place, but every few feet along the way there was one, two or three steps down or up, or both – separated by a few feet of level walkway.

Thank goodness our guide, with his loaded and cocked rifle on his shoulder, was willing to take it slow for me. The walk of a bit more than a mile out to the viewing platform, took us about 20-25 minutes, with constant commentary along the way about what we were seeing…mushrooms, nurse trees, lichens, mosses, liverworts, ferns, many “excavations” by bears that had been made inches from the walkway as the huge animals dig out the clay they crave. Bob, our guide, pointed out many places where there were large paw-and-claw prints as bears had come down, waked the boardwalk, and then took off up a hill through the mud.

About halfway in, Bob spotted a brown bear (grizzly) in the far distance, alongside a pond filled with salmon heading upstream to spawn. Just one bear, at the edge of the pond.

We continued on to the observation decks above, at the falls, where there is a covered viewing platform, plus a lower-level photographer’s blind immediately adjacent to the river, right at eye level. The Forest Service sees to it there are never more than about a dozen or 15 people at the platform at one time; individuals sign up to go down to the photographer’s blind to watch the bears fish in the river.

We were there at the platform for almost 5 hours, and it rained almost the entire time. Hard rain. Which the guides kept telling us was a good thing, because it kept the temperatures lower, and more bears come out to fish when it is cooler than when it is very warm. The bears we saw that day were all black bears, or all sizes and ages, it appeared. A sow with a very young little fuzzy cub came walking down the long trunk of a fallen cedar that slanted down toward the rocks lining the river…she took the cub into a small cavern below us, in the rocks, for safety, while she fished.

About a half-dozen black bears two to four years old fished much of the day below us. One of them was so totally incompetent that he could do little but pull dead fish carcasses from the river, or scrounge among the leftover carcasses laying on rocks to see if a few tasty bites were still available, because each time he tried to catch a fish for himself, he failed miserably. His mama apparently had not taught him well, or he was too stupid to pay attention to her techniques.

Most fun of all was watching a gigantic male the rangers have named Zeus, who fished immediately below us, at the best little pool imaginable, catching literally dozens of big sockeyes, one after the other, and eating every single morsel of them before tossing the bones away and catching another, moving his big butt only inches off his rock to snatch another biggie from the pool below a rapids. His technique was impeccable, his aim deadly, his eye accurate. This guy never missed…no wonder he was so huge, so glossy, so healthy. This was survival of the fittest in action…an unparalleled performance. No other bears even came close to what Zeus could do in an afternoon!

Probably a dozen or more black bears came and went at the falls the Friday we visited Anan. Sometimes they would come for 45 minutes or so and fish a lot, often biting off only the head and the gut to get at a female’s roe, and then casually discarding the entire remainder of the large bloodied carcass, letting it float downriver through the falls, where it would often catch on a rock or swirl away in an eddy on its journey back to the sea from which it came. We learned that this is what black bears and brown bears do as fall approaches and the salmon are running thick in the streams…the bears instinctively know that the fattiest, richest parts of the fish are the brains and the roe, which help the bears gain the most weight, the fastest, as they prepare for winter hibernation.

After a half-hour of 45 minutes of fairly steady fishing and eating, a bear will seem bored – as opposed to tired – and will wander away into the woods for a while. After 15 minutes or another half-hour, that same bear will then reappear and find a new pool and start fishing again.

A large sow black bear fished the same pool for almost 4 hours, steadily, catching fish after fish, standing in fairly deep water and swinging her head back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, watching intently for large salmon that would try to jump up the high whitewater fall she was standing in, and as a large fish fell backwards, unable to make the leap up the falls, she would grab it. She’d ignore smaller fish and just go for the bigger ones. She was very efficient at doing this job. Her coloring made her very recognizable when she left for short periods, then returned to the same pool a bit later. The ends of all her hair were very black, but where the hair parted along her spine, she was reddish-brown in color. And the ends of her legs were also reddish-brown, near her claws. Very distinctive coloring.

Each time she caught a fish, she’d step sideways to a big, flat black rock with the fish clamped in her jaws and flapping like crazy to try to escape her clutches, put the fish down and slap her big brownish paw on top, and start chomping away, biting into the salmon’s fat belly first, and then picking virtually every piece of meat off each fish before turning back to her pool to catch another fish within just a few minutes.

We knew she was a sow because at times 4 different young bears would climb down the rocks near her, causing her to raise her nose sharply into the air, sniff to determine who was approaching “her pool”…bears are very territorial about their chosen fishing spots…if the interloper were another sow, she’d give a growl, bare her teeth and scare the newcomer away. If the approaching bear were a dominant male, she’d run away, scurrying as fast as possible up the rocks and up the tree trunk to escape the male. But in every instance we watched, she stayed right where she was after doing her sniffing, allowing the 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds to come close to where she stood. Each time, the younger bear would know right where to stop, perched on a slightly higher rock above the river, about 3 feet away from the rock where she would place her fish to eat.

Each time one of these adolescents came near her, one at a time, she’d eat only the head and roe of her fish, and shove the remainder away, to the far edge of the rock, where the younger bear would grab it and eat the remainder of the salmon she had caught. These were clearly her cubs from previous years…she would never have allowed any bears other than her cubs to come close like this, and she’d never give fish knowingly to any other bear who wasn’t a close relative. Interesting interplay to watch between a mama bear and her young’uns from pervious years, whom she had cast out of her nest but whom she also appeared willing to care for.

Periodically while we were on the observation decks at Anan, the rain would stop so we could dry out a bit. About 15 minutes later, it would start again, first as a downpour of tiny droplets (heavy mist) then as bigger drops soaking everything. This area has experienced quite a drought this year and badly needs the rain, so we won’t complain.

The hourlong boat ride back to the town of Wrangell was uneventful, fairly calm. Our skipper said the trip the previous day had been a real butt-pounder, as winds and currents kicked up small waves for the entire length of the long north-south strait, causing the boat to crash continually on the tops of the whitecaps. Very uncomfortable, he said. Nice having a calm day today! We arrived back at our dock at 5:30 pm.

At one point I asked about a huge clear-cut area that had recently been logged out, creating an expansive ugly scar on the sides of mountains that extended for at least 10 miles. Because this side of the island we’re passing by is the “dry side” that receives much less rain, 25 or more years will be needed just for undergrowth and brush to spring up and cover the brown ugly scar with greenery, to say nothing of the hundred years or more it’ll take for new-growth forest to replenish itself. The timber that was recently cut was probably 300 or more years old. Ugh.

If I lived here, I might become a tree-hugger, despite being an ardent capitalist and believer as I am that stringent restrictions on logging do more harm than good by depriving people of necessary jobs. There’s got to be a happy middle-ground somewhere, but when you see the scars left on these magnificent mountains when relatively old forests are clear-cut for lumber that gets sent to Japan, it makes you sick. Later that evening, I spoke with a gentleman vacationing in Alaska with his wife, who took a flightseeing trip a week ago that went over neighboring Price of Wales Island…he was shocked to see from the air that virtually the entire HUGE island had been clear-cut and logged out over a period of 5 years in the early 2000s, except for one wide band of trees left that encircled the island along its rocky shores. All the timber from Prince of Wales had been contracted for by Japan and had been shipped there, he was told by the pilot of his plane. This exactly follows the storyline of the final chapter in James Michener’s “Alaska”, I remembered. That timber was a thousand years old or more. It’ll be easily 300 years or ore before enough forest grows back to be cut again…is clear-cutting an entire island full of timber even realistic? Desirable?

The same set of issues faces Alaskans regarding the fish in the seas as with forestry…halibut, salmon, rockfish and all the species here might face future dangers. In at least 6 towns we’ve visited where there is a tremendous amount of sportfishing and subsistence fishing (natives who depend on fishing for their food) we have heard people discussing the pitiful lack of “big fish” being caught this year. In Homer, there was endless discussion – and complaints -- about the halibut catches being 15 pounders up to 50 pounders instead of the real biggies. Fisherman and experts worry that so many of the really large halibut (over 100 pounds each) and large king (coho) and sockeye salmon (over 10 pounds each, up to 30 pounders and larger) are being caught by sportfishermen going out on the hundreds of daily charters that the “gene pools” of large fish of many different species are being altered irreversibly. The upshot could be that 10 years from now, there won’t be any large fish left, so only the little pinks (keta salmon, aka dog salmon), humpies, kings (coho), and sockeyes will  come upstream in the runs.

What can you do about it? Should the number of charter boats be limited to a few per day? In what towns of Alaska should this happen? Should the number of fishing permits be cut to a bare minimum to protect these fish? If so, in which locations? Should the catch be limited even more than it now is, per fisherman? What about the jobs and economic benefits of sportfishing that have sprung up in places like Soldotna, Kenai, Seward, Homer, Ninilchik, over on the Kenai peninsula and all throughout the Southeast?

The development of oil and mineral resources presents another set of thorny concerns: Economic versus preservation issues abound up here, and it’s easy to see why and how these are not easily resolved. The land is vast, the resources plentiful. But it may not always be this way, especially if the earth’s despoiling continues unfettered and unabated. I may become a half-greenie before we’re done with this trip. I’ve always understood the issues confronting us, but it’s easier to understand the conflicts when one travels a country like Alaska that is so primitive, so wild, so underdeveloped, and so un-urbanized.

I sure loved the day at Anan, even with the rain. While everybody else took a zillion photographs, and ran around looking for the best angles and the best shots, I just stood in the same place all day, watching a few bears do what bears do.  Absolutely fascinating. Wonderfully wild. Beautifully managed by the National Forest Service. The rangers do a great job. It cost us $251 per person to come here on our charter trip with Alaska Vistas out of Wrangell…worth every single penny! Sylvia, who owns Alaska Vistas, is great; John, our skipper, was great; Bob, our guide, was excellent and a very nice guy. It was unhurried and we stayed as long as we wanted to, which was the best part of it all.

This is a sanctuary that I am so glad the government has established and protected. When Ronald and Nancy Reagan visited Anan and watched the bears feeding in the last year of Reagan’s presidency (1988), they walked the mile-long trail through the rainforest when it was muddy, rocky and unimproved in any way. Toward the end, the story goes, Nancy said, “Ronnie, these people need a boardwalk!” Because of rain, many streams and muskeg underfoot, it was very boggy, mucky and slippery all the way in those days. Less than 30 days later, we were told, the money had been appropriated in Washington and plans were being made for materials to be shipped and a boardwalk to be built and maintained at Anan. Good move, Nancy! Thank you very much, Ron!

Tired and still damp from our rainforest day, we went to the Diamond C Café for dinner, and had a pizza. Very good. Another family we had seen and met at Anan, from Denver, were there too…they had been on a different charter and had left a lot earlier than we did. Tumbled into bed early, with the alarm set for 5 am, so we’d be at the ferry in line by 6 for our 8 am departure for Ketchikan.
Klondike Susie aka Salty Adventurer
2013 Itasca Reyo (25', no toad)
Married to oldedit
Resides in Denver CO area & Silverthorne CO

4ducksrus

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Re: Great Alaska Adventure - 2013
« Reply #119 on: August 12, 2013, 06:24:39 PM »
Don & Susie,
I am really enjoying following your adventure as we are planning on making our "Great Alaskan Adventure" next summer.  I love that you're giving recommendations on restaurants and RV parks too!  I wonder if you'd mind letting us know what your tours are costing?  Someone on another thread said that they were very expensive and so they chose to forego them and you're making me think I want to partake!!!

Thanks in advance, I'll be looking forward to the  rest of your daily journals!!

Mikie
Jim & Mikie

2011 Itasca Meridian 40U
2013 Jeep Rubicon
2003 HD Ultra Classic
WIT WI54011

 

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