Brinck's Alaska Travelogueby Gary Brinck
This is an ongoing diary of Gary & Nancy Brinck's 14,750 miles and 6 months 8 days journey to Alaska in the summer of 2002.
We left Florida on April 26 and slowly crossed the USA, visiting friends in Texas and New Mexico and touring the local sights as we found them. On May 24 near Moab, Utah, we met up with our traveling companions Paul & Linda DeMars from Connecticut and continued our way north and west as a two motorhome caravan. We crossed the border into Canada on June 17th and visited friends in Surrey, BC (near Vancouver) and then headed up Canada Rt 1 towards the Yellow head Highway, which would take us to the Cassiar Highway, one of the two possible routes to Alaska. The travelog starts on about June 22.
After cruising around British Columbia for several wonderful days, we have finally started up the Cassiar Highway and can now truly say we are on our way to Alaska, even though we actually left Florida two full months ago. We (Paul & Linda DeMars, Nancy & I) spent Tuesday in Smithers, BC in a very nice park named Riverside Golf & RV Park. The sites are along a golf course and the price is right - $17.10 [Canadian] with the Good Sam discount. Smithers is an attractive town situated on the Bulkley River with a snow covered mountain towering over it and a small glacier visible in clear weather. However, it was drizzling and we couldn't see it. Shopping and services are quite decent. Normally the Bulkley would be a good fishing spot, but the rivers in this area are in full flood and unusable for any recreation.
On Wednesday a.m. we drove the short distance west along the Skeena River through Hazelton towards BC 37, the Cassiar Highway. Not far from Hazeltown we saw our first bears, a sow with three cubs. Shortly after we saw another bear family and then still more, with a total of four bear sightings in about 25 miles of driving. Then we turned north up the Cassiar at Kitwanga.
We didn't get very far that day, only 19 miles up the Cassiar to a place where an old section of highway runs along side of Kitwanga Lake for about 5 miles. We unhitched one of the cars and explored the old road, finding a splendid site to boondock right at the waters edge with our coaches looking out over the lake. There was even a makeshift log dock there where local folks (native Americans, mostly) launched boats on the gravel shore and a rock firepit with plenty of wood lying around. We carefully brought both coaches down the gravel road and onto the bank at lakeside and settled in for a couple days. We assembled Paul's Sea Eagle inflatable and he & I went fishing, garnering a several rainbow trout that evening. Next day (Thursday) we got a couple more and had a fresh fish dinner. Bald eagles and ospreys soar over the lake frequently and Thursday afternoon we saw some mountain goats on the mountainside across the lake (with the aid of binoculars, of course). The sunset was glorious Thursday evening (about 10 pm) with pink and gray clouds surrounding a mountain peak - all visible right out the windshield of our rig. Only downside of this spot is the skeeters - lots of them whenever the breeze didn't blow or in any sheltered spot. But we had prepared ourselves with plenty of repellent and the famous Mahoney skeeter zapper, so we survived quite nicely. Actually, there weren't very many skeeters biting but they sure made a nuisance of themselves flitting around our heads.
Friday morning we broke camp and headed up the Cassiar to our next stop at Stewart, BC and its American sister town of Hyder, Alaska.
Traveling up the Cassiar we saw another black bear and the scenery improved mile by mile. At Meziadin Junction we turn west towards Stewart & Hyder. Words are inadequate to describe the scenery along this road, but awesome comes closest. Towering, snow covered mountains on both sides and several glaciers right at the road's edge. We stopped at the Hanging Glaciers, which cling to a steep mountain side in defiance of gravity and then Bear Glacier which ends in a small lake right at the roadside, calving small icebergs. We didn't get to see an actual calving while we watched, though. Water falls cascade down the mountains on both sides of the road for mile after mile, many of them falling 50-100 of feet in each cascade, with multiple leaps totaling thousand foot drops.
We are spending 4 days in Stewart/Hyder. We are at the Rainey RV park in Stewart, which is by far the nicest park in the two villages, but the sites are electric only. Water is available near the entrance and the dump station is 5 blocks away! And they seem very proud that they have showers available for only $1 for 4.5 minutes! The alternative, Camp Runamuck in Hyder, is a rough graveled area right at the roads edge and is really the pits, but it does offer hook-ups. Rainey Creek CG will let us use the phone to get online, but it is their only phone and we can only have a minute of two at a time.
There isn't much to Stewart and nothing at all to Hyder, just a dirt track with some buildings scattered along side. Stewart has paved streets and a few stores, though you definitely wnt to do your shopping before you arrive. You come here to see the mountain scenery and/or fish, not to enjoy the towns or the weather, which is mostly gray and drizzle. But the town folks are generally very friendly and quite talkative, perhaps happy to have someone different to chat with. One lady invited us to her house so we could use the phone to get online and another volunteered to pick up Italian bread from the bakery for us when we merely inquired if any was available in town. She delivered it right to the coach!
Taking advantage of the [rare] warm sunny day when we arrived, we drove through Hyder and 20 miles up the winding dirt road to big Salmon Glacier, which fills the upper valley for a couple miles. The upper end of the road was closed, so we couldn't get all the way to the glaciers edge, but we drove along the ridge high above it for more than a mile. Waterfalls leap everywhere above and below the road - spectacular! We also stopped at the Forest Service bear viewing area along the glacier-fed creek, but the salmon aren't running yet here, so the bears are not yet congregating along the creek. There are salmon out in the fiord (the Portland Canal) and local estimates are that the run up the streams will start any time now - maybe tomorrow and maybe three weeks.
We had dinner at the King Edward Hotel, which claimed to be famous for their Alaskan King Crab dinner, but the fame must be strictly local since the fare was only edequate. They did offer a very tasty halibut fish & chips, though, and I recommend that rather than the crab.
Paul caught some nice Dolly Varden trout from the Salmon River on Saturday. It was raining fairly hard and he came back wet but smiling. I stayed home catching up on email and forum messages and sorting through the zillions of digital photos we've been taking, more comfortable but not as rewarding as a good day of fishing.
Today is Canada Day [July 1] and there will be a parade, hot dogs and hamburgers in the park and various local festivities. The volunteer librarian at the Hyder Community Center says she will be working for an hour or so this morning and we can drop by to use the phone to get online even though the libray is closed today. We will do that shortly so I'll end this here...
On Tuesday, July 2 we drove back up the Glacier Highway to the Cassiar, once more passing the Bear Glacier. The morning sun struck the glacier at a different angle than on our trip into Stewart, making it a vivid blue and well worth another stop for a photo. We only went about 35 miles, moving into the Meziadin Lake Provincial Park just south of the Glacier-Cassiar junction. Meziadin Lake is a another gorgeous spot and the park has numerous sites right at the waters edge. No hook-ups or any other services in the park, not even a pay phone, but well worth a visit. We stayed two nights ($12/night Canadian) and did some fishing, catching some splendid Dolly Varden trout. Seeing us two big guys in our little Sea Eagle inflatable, the camp hostess loaned us her husband's aluminum boat and motor, for which we gave a suitable gratuity. Everyone coming south on the Cassiar and pulling into the park was filthy dirty and told of some poor road conditions further north, especially a stretch of construction. Well, we had expected some of that anyway...
We left Meziadin on the 4th of July and headed north again. Began to hit gravel stretches in the highway after about 30 miles but they weren't bad as long as we stayed at about 35 mph. But it was drizzling and the rigs got pretty muddy. Shortly after commenting that the road wasn't really bad, we hit a section that was being "improved". It had been graded but then the rains converted it to a continuous washboard liberally sprinkled with pot holes. We were slowed to 10 mph and this section went on and on and on. We eventually pulled into Kinascan Lake Provincial Park around 4 pm after an tortuous ride. It was still drizzling and 42 degrees F. when we set up but cleared a bit later. This is another very pretty park with no services, but the weather didn't permit us much enjoyment.
The next day (July 6) we continued north towards Dease Lake. The highway was better for most of that segment but still a lot of gravel sections and mud. At Dease Lake we stopped for groceries, fuel and a really delicious cheeseburger in the little cafe. Prices are steep at Dease, but it is the only commercial center for a hundred miles or so. Well, "commercial center" is probably an overstatement, but it has a decent grocery, two fuel stations, a couple motels, a cafe and a hardware store. The locals said there was one more pretty poor stretch about 15 minutes north of town and then pretty good sailing thereafter. We noted in the Milepost a that there was a private campground with hook-ups on the Dease River about 40 miles north, so decided to spend the night there. The facilities were said to be new in 2001 and the river there renowned for fishing. Alas, when we arrived we found the electric and water hook-ups were still not installed, but the owners were so very friendly and accommodating we stayed anyway. Besides, the only other campground with hookupos was 40 miles back south! They let us wash the rigs at their water pump and rearrange a double campsite to our liking. Dease River Crossing is yet another gorgeous spot at the waters edge, surrounded by mountains and forest. The weather began to clear a bit and we sat around a blazing campfire for our regular happy hour. Skeeters were pretty thick, though, and we applied plenty of bug juice to ward them off. Paul fished awhile after dinner but I was tired and stayed in to read. Temperatures dropped to 38 that night but the next day showed blue sky and sun for the first time in three days.
The next day Dennis the campground owner dropped us off with our little boat about 5 miles up the river and drove the car back while we floated down the river to the campground. We got 3 Artic Grayling on the way, one a nice 15 incher. We still had trout in the freezer, so we released them all. The surprise of the expedition was finding a cow moose in a broad area of the river called Mosquito Lake. She let us come within 50 yards with the boat before she climbed out of the water into the trees. But after we went by, she came back out into the water and paraded though the lake in 4-5 feet of water, following us downstream towards the river's exit from the lake. She bounded and splashed and grunted her displeasure at us for a couple hundred yards, no doubt feeling she was chasing us out of her lake. It was great theater but unfortunately we did not have a camera in the boat.
Returning to our campsite on the riverside after a 4 hour expedition, our awaiting ladies, Nancy and Linda, prepared cocktails and snacks for our traditional happy hour. The evening was warm by local standards, in the 60's until around 9 pm, a welcome change after the previous night. However, temps still dropped to 39 by morning.
This is a swell place but tomorrow we will move on again, probably as far as Boya Lake with a stop at Jade City for a bit of souvenir shopping and to dump tanks. Many campgrounds along the Cassiar do not have sani-dumps (as they call them here), so we have to plan our stops for dumping as well as for fuel. This will be another short drive, just 50 miles.
We are far enough north that it no longer gets full dark at night. The light is dim from about midnight to 3:30 a.m. and it is more-or-less daylight the rest of the time.
Sunday, July 7: It was a bright sunny day when we set out, but not without mishap. Gary didn't notice a tree along side until too late and broke a mirror. Fortunately it was only the upper one of the stack of three which National RV favors, and won't interfere with visibility. No damage to the housing so will just have to get a new piece of glass when delivery can be arranged to some future stop.
The scenery north of Dease River Crossing was truly awesome, with every bend in the road showing yet another stupendous view, different but every bit is pretty as the last. We stopped at Jade City, a grandiose name for two small shops selling articles of jade, which is mined nearby at the Princess Jade Mine, supposedly the worlds largest jade mine. Completing the scene is a converted Winnebago selling burgers and dogs. Linda & Nancy bought some jade articles in each place, at reasonable prices (especially considering the exchange rate). The original Jade City shop has an RV park which is free but has no facilities nor any fresh water. It does however, have an old dump station which we were able to use for $5. After a much needed dump we begged some fresh water from the competitor's shop across the road and decided to forsake the free camping and continue on to Boya Lake Provincial Park.
The day was picture perfect, with bright sun, blue sky and a few puffy clouds. Temperatures soared and we began stripping off layers of clothes and soaking up much needed heat. When we reached Boya, everybody changed into shorts and basked in the sun. Boya has numerous islands, a white sand bottom and crystal clear water that looks aquamarine when viewed from a distance. You can see bottom clearly in 25-30 foot depths. My guess is that it is a glacial moraine - there are smooth rocks of all sizes around the edges with deep sand at the bottom and the lake bed is clearly depressed below the surrouding ridges.
Paul & I launched the boat and fished for a few hours inthe evening, to no avail. Temperatures stayed pleasantly warm until around 11 pm and then dropped off to the mid 40's by morning. By 8:30 a.m. the next day the bright sun was above the ridges and temperatures began to climb again. We will be blessed with another beautiful day!
July 8... Arrived in Watson Lake, Yukon, home of the famous Sign Forest. We stayed at the Downtown Rv park to take advantage of the walking distance to local businesses and the free, do-it-yourself, RV wash. $20/night (dollarettes) for full 30A hook-up with CATV, but rigs are packed in like sardines (maybe 6 feet between adjacent rigs) on a gravel parking lot. Paul & I washed our rigs and cars thoroughly while Linda & Nancy did the accumulated laundry. Did email (pay phones have data jacks), picked up mail at the post office and decided to eat out. Watson Lake is not amply endowed with restaurants or even a diner - a couple eating establishments we visited turned out to be closed or had only their coffee shops open. We had hoped for a bit more than a burger, but ended up at Archies, a burger take-out place without even a picnic table outside. We took our food back to the coaches to eat and called it a night. Around midnight it began to rain on our freshly washed rigs and by morning the place was awash, making the gravel sites seem not such a bad idea. We did more online stuff, mailed out some things at the P.O. and hit the road around 11:00. We had received a coupon for $0.02/liter off on fuel at Tags, so topped off our tanks in the rain and headed west.
July 9... Rain stopped as we headed west on the Alaska highway and about 110 miles west of Watson Lake we found ample area to boondock where the highway crosses the Smart River, a crystal clear stream with a current of 6 mph or so. After happy hour Paul & I launched the Sea Eagle and fished upstream for a couple hours but with little luck, just one grayling. Lots of skeeters, though. They swarmed in whenever a door was opened in coach or storage bay.
July 10... While still at Smart river the next morning, Paul tried fishing downstream and came back all excited to tell me he had found numerous trout willing to bite. I got my gear out and joined him and we had an excellent morning of fishing, catching 7 really nice fish in the 1.5-3.0 lb range. By the time we cleaned fish and had lunch it was 2:30, but we headed out anyway. Went only about 40 miles before deciding to stop at Mukluk Annies, famous for their salmon bake and offering free camping and use of their RV wash with purchase of dinner there. Annies is 10 miles west of Teslin on the lake and we had nice sites on the bluff with a good view over the water. Unfortunately, a light rain began [again]. The place completely filled by 7 pm and rigs were parking in Annies large parking lot. Dinner was good (though not outstanding) and the rain stopped around 8:30 pm. We were all tired and retired early. Tomorrow we should get to Whitehorse, YK - it's only about 120 miles up the road and reports say good highway all the way.
July 11... Arrived in Whitehorse about 1 pm. Had planned to stay at the Pioneer Rv Park but it wasn't much to look at, another gravel parking lot. Continued on to the High Country park, where the sites had some trees between rigs and the facilities looked good. There were two big caravans already at the park so we had to settle for a pair of 20A/water site, but that's OK. Settled in, had lunch in town and kicked back to relax awhile after too many one night stops. Whitehorse is a real town with all amenities (even has a Walmart!). Will stay here a few days before continuing to Haines Jct and then detouring south the Haines.
July 12... Did some rig maintenance: changed the oil, brought batteries up to proper water level, topped off radiator overflow tank, refilled windshield washer, etc. while Paul built some improved seats for the little inflatable boat. The girls went shopping - mostly for groceries but they checked all the other stores in town anyway. Paul & I had lunch in a Chinese restaurant (good food but limited variety on the buffet) and I got a haircut. Went to the Frantic Follies in the evening - a fun-filled vaudeville-type show with an 1890's Yukon theme. It was terrific and we all laughed for the better part of 90 minutes.
July 13...We moved over to the Walmart parking lot while we completed our shopping and prepared to move out the next day. No less than 63 rigs spent that night at Walmart! Every type and size was represented...Gary climbed onto the roof of the coach and videotaped it for the record.
July 14th... We headed west on the Alaska Hwy 95 miles to Haines Junction, where we were to meet Russ Mahoney. Russ was at the Kluane Campground so we stayed there, but the best deal in town is an unadvertised 6 site campground owned by the Raven Hotel & Restaurant - full hookups for only $13 Canadian! We had dinner at the The Raven, supposedly one of Canada's better restaurants despite it being in a village of only a dozen buildings. It lived up to its billing, with a superb food and wines. Russ & Gary had Fillet of Lamb, Nancy & Paul had Pork Tenderloins and Linda had a seafood platter. All pronounced their meal excellent and the service was impeccable. Reservations are recommended as the place has limited seating. Haines Junction is actually a nice little place, with an excellent view of a glacier in the mountains above the town, a photogenic monument to the Yukon at the junction and at least two good eating establishments.
July 15th... Russ joined our caravan and we all headed down to Haines. The 145 miles drive is yet another example of the stunning scenery in this part of the world, with the road running between two sets of mountains, with peaks, lakes, rivers and lots of snow on either side. The top of Chilkat Pass is only 3490 feet, but snow was still abundant at that altitude in July. We continued on, passing through US Customs at Dalton Cache, then through the Eagle Sanctuary (only saw one eagle, though) and on into Haines, a pleasant town on the edge of a fiord. We elected to stay at the Oceanside Rv park, which is not much to look at but perched right on the shore of the bay where numerous cruise ships and water taxis (to Skagway) pass daily. Full hookups and cable TV for $21/day [US]. After a dinner of leftovers, we took a ride up the bay to a river mouth where several eagles were hanging out, waiting for the salmon runs to begin. No fish in the river yet, but natives were gill netting sockeye salmon in the bay. Netting is legit for native Americans who are subsistence fishing. Dolly Varden trout are also abundant on local waters, so Paul & I will try our luck tomorrow.
Haines, Alaska. Haines is an attractive and pleasant little town very with friendly folks. It sits on a long, deep fiord and the Canadian town of Skagway is further up the same fiord, so cruise ships and the Alaska Marine Highway ferries ply here every day, providing a continuous show right out front of our rigs. Snow covered mountains tower on all sides, sometimes shrouded in clouds and sometimes brilliant in the sun. The area is known as the Valley of the Eagles, with numerous bald eagles in residence year around and thousands of them in the fall when the salmon runs are at their peak. We see eagles on rocks along the bay and rivers, perched in trees and soaring above. Nancy & I frequently see bald eagles in Florida (which has the second largest eagle population in the USA), but this is simply marvelous, with so many, so close.
July 16th... Gorgeous day, sunny and mild. Paul & I fished the Chilicoot River for about 4 hours today while Russ and the girls toured the village. The Chilicoot is a rip-roaring river, bounding over numerous boulders and the footing was difficult when standing waist deep in the strong currents in our chest high waders. We caught some trout but no salmon. However, sockeye salmon are beginning to appear in the river and a few were caught by others. Very few skeeters here, but some kind of biting gnat was bothersome along the river. They don't seem to be in the campground, fortunately. In the evening we all walked to a restaurant on the docks near our campground and had an excellent dinner of halibut fish & chips. Russ Mahoney graciously picked up the check and after dinner(around 8:30 pm) we piled into two cars and drove several miles along the bay and river to look for wildlife. We were well-rewarded, seeing several seals in the bay (they fish for salmon too), and along the river some eagles and a grizzly bear eating the salmon carcasses discarded by fisherman after removing the filets.
July 17th... Weather turned cold (low 50's) and rainy. Gary declined to go fishing but Paul went with Wayne, a neighbor in another rig. Gary, Nancy and Linda went into the village and located an internet lounge at the local Radio Shack store and we downloaded both computers, then visited the post office and later had dandy lunch at the Chilicoot Restaurant and Bakery. Also bought a loaf of delicious bread. Late in the afternoon we drove up the river side looking (in the rain) for Paul and found him & Wayne cleaning salmon. Wayne had done all the catching but he gave Paul one. Later Paul bought several Dungeness crab (cheap!) from a fellow on the boat docks and we feasted that evening on crab legs, grilled salmon and fresh baked bread.
July 18th... Russ Mahoney departed today, taking his motorhome on the ferry to Skagway, but we decided to stay here a while longer. A friendly, retired, local fellow named Charlie invited Paul & I to go fishing out in the bay on his 27 foot boat and we did so, hoping for a nice halibut. We caught quite a few flounder and something called an Irish Lord, but no halibut. Still, we had a good time and brought home some fish so it was a great day. Took a ride in the evening looking for wildlife but no joy. Lots of fishermen (and ladies) on the river though - since it remains light until around 10 pm, they fish until late at night. When we crossed into Alaska we set the clocks back an hour, so it actually gets dark earlier here than we have become accustomed to, but it never gets real dark anyway.
July 19th... Another sunny day. Paul went fishing in the early morning and caught some Dolly Varden trout while Gary & Linda caught up on email, which Gary then uploaded at the local Radio Shack store.
In the afternoon Gary & Paul took the inflatable boat up to a nearby lake, a short way up the Chilcoot River. Found hundreds of BIG salmon grouped at the mouth of a fast running brook flowing into the lake. Some appeared to be spawning around there while others tried to work their way over the rocky mouth of the stream in water that was only a few inches deep. Gary caught his first salmon there - a huge male of around 15 pounds! Exciting - the fish towed our little boat around wherever he wanted for several minutes until he tired enough to bring along side and release. The fish had already changed into his full spawning regalia, vivid red body and hunter green head and tail. Paul got a nice one too, then we each caught some trout that were hovering near by, trying to steal some salmon eggs. But the scene of the vividly colored salmon, slithering over rocks and splashing around the shallows was so compelling we soon stopped fishing and merely watched. We decided we had to go back and bring Nancy & Linda out to see it, which we did and they got many photos and video footage. That evening, our last in Haines, we had dinner on the shore overlooking the bay and then walked a short way in the village to get ice cream and drop some cards at the post office.
July 20th... It was late in the morning before we said good-byes to all the new friends we had made at the campground and fueled up for the journey. Fuel is relatively inexpensive in Haines, $1.83/gallon for diesel and $1.90 for gas. In Canada, it is currently around $2.27[US] for gas. We drove the scenic 150 miles to Haines Jct and turned west once again on the Alaska Hwy. Climbing steadily in the mountains, we ran into the first of three construction projects along our route and endued about 8 miles of torn up road at 10 mph. Reaching Kluane Lake, we found a large gravel turnout on the right on the lake shore and parked our rigs for the night. Kluane is a large and brilliant blue lake, sitting in a bowl surrounded by jagged mountains, some of which rise over 10,000 feet. It was sunny but a cold wind whipped across the lake, so we enjoyed the scenery from within our coaches and retired early.
July 21st... Today we reach the border with the Alaska "mainland"! Our previous visits were to the panhandle, so crossing the US border via the Alcan highway is a big milestone in our journey. After about four hours on a very bad road, much of it at 10-15 mph, we reached the international boundary. There is a nice turnout there, with a border marker, various explanatory signs and a big WELCOME TO ALASKA sign. We took numerous pictures in front of the Welcome sign and toasted ourselves with the champagne Gary had brought along. We kibitzed with other travelers and chatted with a young couple who were taking part in a rally, driving motor SCOOTERS (not motorcycles!) from L.A. to Alaska - a 7800 km journey. It is sunny and warm, actually hot! We even resorted to air conditioners while driving, the first time since we left Utah!
We then continued to the US Customs & Immigration station and went through the drill. This was our second official "return" to the US side. In addition to standard questions about booze and weapons, this time they seemed very keen to know if we were carrying more than $10,000 US. Fat chance! As before, they ran a check on our drivers licenses and presumably finding nothing adverse, wished us a pleasant time in Alaska and waved us on. A short while later we fueled up (US fuel prices are much lower than Canadian - $1.699 for unleaded and diesel was $1.439) and then went about 30 miles further to Deadman Lake, a primitive but free campground in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. We got a double site and set up for a couple days.
July 22nd... Still at Tetlin, Paul & I went fishing and caught a lot of mid-sized Northern Pike, which are abundant in weedy Deadman Lake. Later Paul & Linda went out and also caught several fish, all released. Nancy worked on a quilt and Gary read - a relaxing afternoon in balmy 78 degree temperatures.
July 23rd... Arrived at Tok and stayed at Tok Village RV Park. Had planned to stay at Sourdough RV but when we arrived the place loked pretty run down compared to the other options and the price was the same ($22/night). All the parks in Tok charge handsomely for RV washing - at Tok Village they have a pressure spray set-up that costs $8 for a 30-35 foot RV and $10 for 36+ feet. $3 extra for the toad. We were allowed 45 minutes and with many other rigs waiting to use the two wash areas, we really hustled to finish. Laundry was handy to our site as was the nice modem hook-up, so we did the chores easily.
The roads south of Haines Junction to Haines and west to the Alaska border threw up a lot of gravel and had caused glass damage to both our rigs. The problem is NOT stones thrown up by our rigs, but rather stones from oncoming vehicles. Fifth wheels seem to throw the most - not sure why. Paul had a small half-moon chip in the Beaver's windshield and I had a small star crack in the Tracker windshield, both in the drivers viewing area. There was a mobile glass repair business in Tok and we checked it out. $60 for a motorhome windshield and $45 for a car. We learned that nearly all insurance companies would waive the deductible if we did a repair instead of a new windshield, so we had the guy come out to the park and fix them. When arrived (around 6:45 pm) I discovered a second star crack in the Tracker and he included that for an extra $5. The repairman was a gregarious guy, an RVer who works in Tok every summer, who explained the entire process as he did it. He drills a tiny hole in the damaged area and sucks out the debris and moisture with a vacuum pump. He also drills holes at the end of any running cracks to stop them from spreading. Then an acrylic resin is injected to refill the area and seal it. The repair is almost invisible - ours left pinhead sized marks that were not noticeable when driving. We were the guys 225th and 226th windshield repairs since he arrived in Tok in early May! And he had more jobs to do in the park that night!
I had a wire screen rigged in front of the Tracker's grill but the stones were coming in high and going over it. I converted a heavy, cloth-backed vinyl sheet I had to a windshield cover in hopes of avoiding further damage. Can't do the same for the MH windshield though!
July 24th... It is raining lightly as we head south on the Tok Cutoff towards Valdez. Compared to the last 300 miles, the Tok Cutoff is a dream, with good pavement, relatively small frost heaves and only the occasional area where gravel sealcote was used for repairs. We stopped for a tasty brunch at the Mentata Lodge, a neat little cafe where the floors slant downhill and the cook chats with you while preparing your meal, perfectly willing to cook everything "your way". After leaving Mentata, disaster strikes - in a short graveled area on oncoming fifth wheel showers us with stones and a big rock hits the MH windshield high on the driver's side, leaving a dime-size moon with quarter-sized star cracks radiating out! Guess I'll be getting another glass job in Valdez. We investigated the state of the salmon run in various rivers along the way but didn't find anything exciting, so we continued on and finally stopped for the night at Squirrel Creek State Park, a primitive facility costing $10/night.
July 25th... The weather had cleared somewhat in the morning but as we continued towards Valdez and climbed the Chugach mountains, light rain and fog returned and blocked our much of view. The Thompson Pass was impressive even in the rain, with towering cliffs and numerous waterfalls. Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls drop almost onto the road. We stopped to video a rafting expedition come down the roaring Lowe river, right along side of the road. If the shrieks were any indication, it must have been a pretty exciting ride!
At Valdez I fueled up at $1.784/gallon for unleaded, $0.30 higher than Tok. We went to the Sea Otter park, which is right on the main harbor and directly across from the Alaska pipeline terminus. The price is steep - $25/night for water and 20A electric and the electric can barely raise 106V most of the time. But our front wheels are right at the sea wall and seals and otters indeed play right before our eyes. Nancy even spotted a small Orca coming up for a breathe in the ship channel. It continues to rain most of the day and the high temp is about 53 degrees. The rain stops for a while around 5 pm and we sit outside on the breakwater, swaddled in sweaters and jackets and huddled around our New Frontier propane campfire with cocktails in hand. After subjecting ourselves to this "fun" for an hour or so, we decide to have dinner inside and call it a day.
July 26th... Still raining. Looks like a day for shopping and a restaurant lunch. We are hoping the weather will clear tomorrow so we can take a cruise on Prince William Sound to the giant Columbia glacier and maybe see some whales or walruses too.
July 27th... Foggy this morning in Valdez but it lifts by mid-morning and we actually have brief sunlight. However, it still rains occasionaly in the afternoon. The pink salmon are near the peak of their run here and we have caught many of them. We cooked up the first ones as hors d'oeuvrse, but they did not seem as tasty as the reds, so we released all the rest. We also toured the salmon hatchery, which is by itself a zero. However, Solomon Creek enters the bay there and thousands upon thousands of salmon are struggling to get up it, blocked by a weir that diverts them towards the hatchery (that's how the hatcher gets its brood stock). The shallows are packed nearly solid with fish! An incredible sight and we took lots of video and photos. The highlight of the day was spotting a black bear by a small brook that was loaded with salmon. Paul had noticed bear sign earlier in the day when looking for a fishing spot, so we returned about 9:30 pm and sure enough, the black bear was out. He was a good looking youngster, probably two years old and 150 pounds, and gave us plenty of opportunity for photos and videos.
July 28th... It remains cold, so the girls went to a local museum (not great) and the guys explore some side roads to see if we could get up to one of the glaciers (no luck, although we did get closer). We decide we have been here long enough waiting for the weather and will leave Monday after picking up mail at the post office. We will catch the cruise to the Columbia Glacier from Seward instead of from here.
As a town for visitors, Valdez is rather uninteresting, especially in the rain, which is much of the time here. It's a working town with a substantial fishing industry and the pipeline terminal and not very tourist-oriented. However, the surrounding mountains and glaciers are pretty, the bay has plenty of seals and otters,and during the salmon runs there are the fish to see (or catch). And the drive into Valdez through Thompson Pass and past the Worthington Glacier are worth a visit by themselves. All in all, I would say Valdez is a place for only a short stay, but maybe I would be more positive if the weather had been better.
July 29th... Foggy morning in Valdez but the sun breaks out by mid-morning. We fuel up and drive north, enjoying the Thompson Pass and waterfalls in the bright sun and making an uneventful journey back to Glenallen where we turn west towards Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. We stop for the night at the Little Nilchina State Park which is closed due to budget cuts but still allows camping - no services of any kind but free. The area is supposed to be full of moose and bear but we see none even though we put out a couple slabs of salmon to attract bears.
July 30th... We move on west on the Glenn Hwy through the most splendid scenery yet. Towering, snow-covered mountains shimmering in the bright sun and humongous glaciers spreading miles-wide across valleys as the road winds through mountain passes. Numerous lakes and streams. We stop at Sheep Mountain Lodge for lunch and were treated to a view of a dozen Dall Sheep on the mountain side. The lodge offers giant, mouth-watering sourdough rolls but the rest of the fare is just so-so. Just east of Palmer we stop at another abandoned state park at Moose creek and bask in the warm sun for awhile - a pleasant change after 4 days of rain in Valdez. Then we take the Tracker and drive about 5 miles to Fishook Rd and up to Hatcher Pass and the old Independence Gold Mine. The mine is now a state historical site and the old buildings can be toured but not the mine shafts. Few of the old buildings have been restored yet but the mine manager's house has been adapted as a museum and has some interesting memorabilia on display.
July 31st... Still sunny and warm as we drive the 42 miles into Anchorage. We fuel and water and dump tanks at the Fred Meyer's store on Seward Hwy and planned to overnight there, but it was very, very noisy. We located a Sams Club and an adjacent KMart Superstore in eastern Anchorage that both allowed parking so we moved there instead. Both the Walmarts display prominent signs prohibiting overnight parking, but at one of them it was being ignored by a number of folks. We didn't want to risk it when there was no need - the Meyers, Sams and KMarts had no such signs. After so many weeks in pristine wilderness or small towns, the traffic and noise of a city of 200,000 people is shocking! But we need a dose of civilization and enjoy the selection [and much lower prices!] available in the many large stores. Fuel is also much cheaper here, running around $1.50 for unleaded and $1.40 for diesel. We will stay a few days and then move on to Seward, about 125 miles south on the Kenai peninsula.
August 4...Seward, AK
We arrive in Seward after an overnight at the Trail River NFS campground near Moose Pass. Fog has rolled in along the coast and it is a dreary day. We have been boondocking for a week and need amenities like laundry and sewer, so we forsake the city's harbor front campground (no services) and try for Miller's Marina Campground out on Lowes Point. Miller's is a small place and can only give us one night, so we end up at Bear Creek, a full service Good Sam park 6.5 miles north of town. It isn't much to look at but they are proud enough to want $30/night ($27 with GS discount)! The only decent looking campground in town is the USAF Fam-camp, but we don't qualify for access to that.
We are disappointed that Seward is yet another Alaska town that looks like a junkyard - people seem to leave their old vehicles, machinery, and materials wherever it was when it last stopped. Main street is a typical tourist honky tonk and is crowded with vehicles and people - the city provides quite a bit of parking and certainly attempts to be hospitable, but it is inadequate for the crowds.
Around 3 pm the fog begins to burn off and we set out for the Alaska Sealife Center, which turns out to be a "must see". They have superb live exhibits of Stellar Sea Lions, Harbor Seals and sea birds (including Puffins) and other Alaska sea creatures in natural settings plus excellent movies and other exhibits. We stay about three hours, take tons of pictures and buy an excellent Alaska Wildlife video in the shop.
The forecast for the next day is cloudy with a chance of rain, so after dinner at our rigs we decide to drive 10 miles to Exit Glacier while it is still clear. Exit Glacier is only one small tongue of the huge Harding Icefield, which is 30 miles wide and 50 miles long and covers much of the Kenai Mountains. It is about 8:30 pm when we begin the 1.3 mile walk to the glacier's edge but there is still plenty of daylight. About half the trail is uphill but it isn't strenuous and we get within about 75 feet of the ice face. The ice is deeply crevassed and ranges from azure to royal blue in color except where it is covered with black silt. Melt water pours out from underneath at several points, forming a substantial river and a wide glacial plain (moraine) below. We get back to the parking lot about 10 pm and go into town to reward ourselves with ice cream before calling it a day.
August 5...Drizzling rain in Seward. The girls go shopping and the guys try to go fishing in Bear Lake but the rain gets worse and they give up. That evening we go to the Marina Grill for halibut & chips and are entertained by a number of local characters. Several charter captains seem to hang out there and our waitress is a 60's flower child still floating through life on a plane which we can only imagine. The food is decent (but not wonderful) and the price is only half of what the snazzier waterfront restaurants are charging. Can you believe prices as high as $17.50 for fish & chips? In a seaport town? Can you spell tourist trap?
August 6... It is still gray and cloudy as we leave Seward. The weather clears and warms somewhat as we get away from the coast so we decide to stop at Russian River Ferry, where the Russian River of salmon fishing fame joins the equally famous Kenai River. A unique passenger ferry crosses the river using only the swift current as propulsion - the small barge is angled against the current which pushes it sideways, constrained by an overhead cable. We stay the night at Russian River Campground, a very nice USFS campground with paved sites but no services. Paul catches some red salmon in the river. After dinner we cruise miles and miles of back roads looking for game but find none. Returning to the campground about 10:15, we find a moose with her calf grazing at the roadside near our site. She is not at all alarmed by our presence and we enjoy 15-20 minutes of close up viewing, mostly only 10-15 feet away. What a treat!!!
August 7-8... We stay two more nights at Russian River. It rains a lot but Paul catches more sockeye salmon, which we plans to ship to his kids as a present. Shipping fresh fish is very expensive - the commercial packers want $20-30 for an insulated box, $5/lb for express shipping plus an extra fee for flash freezing and vacuum packing if you haven't already done it yourself. We both have vacuum sealers, so no problem there.
August 9...There is a 3 day limit at the Russian River campground (because of the popularity of the site for salmon fishing) so we have to move. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has several small (3-5 Rvs) campgrounds at the many small lakes along the Sterling Hwy, so we move about 12 miles down the road to Kelly Lake. No services, but it's free and we face the water and can see numerous loons swim by. It's finally a nice sunny day and we enjoy basking outside. In the evening the winds kick up a bit and next day the clouds return and it remains windy with off/on drizzle. A few miles up the road Paul & I find a small stream meandering through the tundra where the forest shelters us from the wind. We fish for a few hours, catching and releasing several small rainbow trout.
August 11... Still cloudy, so we move on to Soldotna, about 30 miles, and settle in at the Fred Meyers store parking lot for some much needed grocery shopping. Fred Meyers is similar to a Walmart super store, offering both groceries and merchandise, and they welcome RVers by providing an RV dump and potable water source as well as a fuel and propane station. By evening there are over 35 Rvs in the lot. At this store they tell us that Rvers have been causing some problems by not parking in the designated areas and also that more than one has written letters to Fred Meyers management complaining about the lack of trash cans and such in the parking lots. Amazing how ungrateful some Rvers can be! We also learn that the K-Mart down the road has ceased allowing RVers to park there.
August 12... Lots of moose in Soldotna - we see them along the roadsides right near downtown. Cows with calves (pony sized!), browsing the leaves on the tops of small bushes. It's Gary's birthday so we go out to dinner to Don Jose's, a quite good Mexican/ Italian (yes, Italian) restaurant and have fajitas. The restaurant presents Gary with fried ice cream with a candle on top and sings a Mexicali birthday song followed by Happy Birthday in English.
August 13... The sun finally appears wnd we move 12 miles north to Kenai and into the Beluga Lookout RV Park, which sits on a bluff overlooking the Cook Inlet (mouth of the Kenai River). We hope to see one of the Beluga whales which supposedly frequent the inlet but none appear for us. That evening we drive a short way down a side road near the KMart and see some Caribou, three in one group and two in another. Large racks of antlers on two of them. The first group was far away and we had to use field glasses but the second pair were somewhat closer and we got some video.
August 14... A local fellow that Paul met on a previous trip, John Dalhgren, takes us fishing in his boat on the Kenai River at 6 a.m. We catch our limit of 6 silver salmon by about 9 pm and also release a number of pink "dog" or "chum" salmon. The silvers are good eating plus they are strong fighters, sometime leaping into the air like silver torpedos. We have a ball and are back at the campground by 11 a.m.!
August 15... We move south about 35 miles to Ninilchik, a tiny sea coast village of Russian origin, and stay at the Ninilchik RIver State Park. There are six state parks within about 2-3 miles here, 4 on the road by streams and two on the beach, all no services and $10/night. The beach front parks are gravel, one of the river parks is wooded and the rest are simply paved roadside lots with painted lines to demark spaces. We chose the wooded park because it was away from road noise. Did a little fishing and strolled along the bluffs above the pretty Ninilchik River. The next morning there was a young bull moose only about 50 yards from our site.
August 16... We move south again, another 40 miles to Homer and stay on the waterfront at the far end of Homer Spit at the Homer Spit Lands End campground ($22, electric only). The view around Kachemak Bay is spectacular but the campground is in a shabby commercial area with lots of junk laying around. OK as long as you only look towards the bay! Homer is the Halibut Fishing capital of Alaska and the tourist strip is mostly charter boat agencies, fish & chips restaurants and some gift shops. A shop clerk pointed us to The Happy Face restaurant as the one patronized by the locals for good food at reasonable prices and she did not steer us wrong. There isn't much in Homer except the view and halibut charters, so we only stay two nights.
August 18... moved up to Deep Creek (near Nilnilchik) and spent the night in a state park. A couple of moose walked right by our rig in the early evening! Then on to Soldatna on Monday, 8/19 and will stay in the Fred Meyers store parking lot. Paul & Linda have gone on ahead to Big Lake (outside of Anchorage) to visit some friends and we will meet them in Anchorage on Thursday.
August 19... It rains for two days in Soldatna/Kenai but we still see moose and caribou along the roads.
August 21... We drive the Glenn Highway to Anchorage and get the chip in motorhome windshield repaired at a Safelite glass shop (referral from our insurance company, who foots the bill). They do a lousy job - the chip is actually more visible than before! But there is no undoing the repair and no point in getting a new windshield with all the gravel areas between us and the USA, so we will wait. At least the hole is sealed and should not spread. We overnight in a Sam's Club parking lot.
August 21-24... We move into the Anchorage RV park for a few days with full hookups. Linda & Paul meet us there. We visit the Alaska Native Cultural Center, a large museum and grounds featuring the life and culture of Alaska's many native (Indian) peoples. Native show us typical clan/family homes, dances, clothing, furs and tools and explain how they are made and used. Everything is done in a very close and personal way - we wander around and talk directly to native peoples of various tribes and they explain in their own words and answer questions. One of the best such exhibits we have ever seen and we enjoy it immensely.
August 25... We drive the Glenn Hwy to the Richardson at Glenallen and turn north to reach the Tok Cutoff. We boondock overnight in a broad, rough gravel area that provides fishing access to the Gakona River. As the sun sets it turns cold and the thermometer drops to 36 by morning.
August 26... The sun shines brightly and we continue north a ways, boondocking near the Indian River where there is also a flooded borrow pit. We are a few hundred yards off the road with a splendid view of snow covered Mt Elias looming on the horizon. At 7 a.m. we are awakened by the sound of an airplane engine close by, followed shortly by a knock on our door. It seems the rough cobblestone road we are parked on is somebody's airplane runway! Groggy and embarrassed, we quickly break camp and move the coaches out of the way to a nearby rest area.
August 27... We arrive in Tok on the Alaska Hwy to collect mail and do some grocery shopping before heading towards the Canadian border 90 miles away.
August 28-29... The DeMars mail is in Tok but ours is not. We wait another day but still no mail, so we arrange to have it forwarded to Hyder. Our hosts at the Tok RV Village recommended we try theTaylor Hwy - Top of the World route instead of the Alaska Highway, which is dismal between the Alaska border and Haines Jct. The first 23 miles of the Taylor Hwy north from Tetlin Jct is newly paved and the 40 miles of gravel starting from Chicken to Top Of The World is reported to be in excellent condition and most of the Top highway is paved all the way to Dawson City. They said the scenery is gorgeous as long as the weather is clear (which it was), so we decided to do it.
Fueling up before leaving ($1.51 gas, $1.42 diesel), the DeMars discovered a slight leak in the radiator of their Beaver where a stone had bruised it. A can of Stop Leak fixed it OK. Stopped for lunch after fueling up and found that Fast Eddy's at the Young Motel is a quite good restaurant - wish we had discovered it before. Alaska is not a great place for dining out, so decent restaurants are a real treat. We left Tok late, so we did only 60 miles and overnighted at the West Fork BLM campground (Taylor Hwy mile 49), a pretty park with good sized sites on a bluff overlooking an oxbow of the river.
August 30... We are really glad we tried this route, which crosses a series of ridges going north and then turns east along tall ridges at about the 3500-4500 foot level. The fall colors are in full bloom and there is spectacular scenery all the way! The birches and aspen are a mix of bright yellows and pale greens, offset by red and amber bushes and fireweed with a backdrop of dark green spruce. Glorious! We stop in Chicken, which is a tiny but fun place consisting of a souvenir shop, saloon, a little breakfast/lunch shop and an RV park. The gravel road is decent and we make 25-30 mph with little dust due to recent rains. We leave the Taylor Hwy and turn onto the Top of the World, and 14 miles later (in the middle of nowhere) we pass through Canadian customes uneventfully and set our clocks ahead one hour to Pacific time. After numerous photo stops including an abandoned gold dredge in a road side creek, we arrive at the Yukon River about 6 pm. The free ferry across the river to Dawson City is an adventure in itself. The boat is just a bit longer than our coach & toad and the river current is very swift - the ferry is swept downstream as it crosses and has to fight its way back up to reach the other side. We go on the first trip and the DeMars wait for the second, which gives us an opportunity to video each other's crossing. We stay at the Gold Rush RV park in downtown Dawson City and the rains arrive shortly after we do. $29.50/night (Canadian) for 30A and water.
August 31... Dawson City is like steping back into the frontier west - dirt streets, wooden boardwalks, and rough plank buildings with names like Klondike Kathy's and Diamond Tooth Gerties. Sunday there will be an Outhouse Race, with local businesses sponsering decorated outhouses on wheels which are raced down the dirt street. Sounds intriguingand we decide to stay over an extra day to see it! Outside of Dawson is an incredible landscape - miles and miles of stone and gravel piles, the tailings from massive gold dredging operations. This is the home of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 and gold was mined up until 1960. There are still some very small mining operations, but the yield is very low. Nancy & I traveled up Bonanza Creek where George Carmacks made the discovery that kicked off the Gold Rush but today it is mostly a monument to man's ability to destroy his planet. An entire valley and its stream, about 15 miles, have been utterly destroyed, leaving millions of cubic yards of jumbled rocks strewn with the iron remnents of broken and abandoned iron equipment. Little Bonanza Creek still survives though, zig-zagging its way through the debris and running amazingly clear, a tribute to Nature's perseverance. Near the head of the creek is the massive, 240 foot long, Dredge #4, one of the largest gold mining dredges ever built. It dug 24,000 cubic yards of gravel from the valley floor every day, digging its own water-filled channel as it went along.
September 1... The Outhouse Race in Dawson City was a hoot - there were 6 teams entered, each with an outhouse on wheels and apprpriate costumes. The costumes and themes were outrageously funny, with the stylistic hit being the Go-Go Girls, entered by the dancers of the Gay 90's show at Dianond Tooth Gerties. It wasn't just a foot race - contestents had to collect items on a scavenger hunt list and compose a poem as well as dashing down the streets of town.
September 2... It was another bright sunny day and we moved southeast on the Klondike Loop towards Whitehorse, following a succession of river valleys - the Yukon, the Klondike, the Stewart, the Pelley and finally back to the Yukon again. Covered about 260 miles on an excellent 2 lane road - one of the best highways in the far north. The fall foliage was again great, making it a scenic trip.
We are back in the land of cheap campgrounds and expensive fuel - got a reminder when I had to refuel for the first time since returning to Canada - $147[Canadian] for 167 liters [45 gallons] of gas or about $2.24/gal! But we overnighted at the Twin Lakes Yukon Provincial Park for only $12[C].
September 3... Arrived in Whitehorse about 11:30 a.m. for a day of shopping - our last stop in civilization for awhile. for the next week os so we will be boondocking, either in roadside areas or primitive campgrounds. That night in Whitehorse we finally see a brief display of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Around 11 pm the sky was suddenly filled with a pale green shimmering light, three or four broad bands that looked like curtains undulating in a slight breeze. No other colors appear and it all fades away within a few minutes.
September 4... Fueled up [US$2.15/gallon for gas] and went 140 miles east on the Alaska Hwy and stopped at a pretty, unnamed, little lake at km marker 1238. There is a nice broad area on the lake shore about 150 yards off the road, so we decide to stay a few days and relax. It is cool, high 50's, but sunny and pleasant. The lake looks like Northern Pike territory so the guys do some fishing and the girls work on quilt projects. We catch and release 18 nice pike, 22-26 inches in length and weighing 3-4 pounds each, keeping only two for our dinner one evening. There is plenty of deadfall wood nearby, so we gather some for a happy hour campfire in a ring made of stones, imagining ourselves to be pioneers in the wilderness despite the luxurious motorhomes parked behind us!
September 7... Moved on another 130 miles to Watson Lake where the DeMars added one of their old license plates to the Sign Post Forest there. We overnighted in the Downtown campground [US$14.50/night for full hook-up and cable TV] so we could download and do laundry. The grocery in Watson has an excellent bakery, called Mrs.T's, and we get some delicious fresh French bread to go with the steaks we grilled.
September 8... We backtrack 14 miles west to the Cassiar Hwy junction (Junction 37) where we top fuel up again [US$2.18/gallon] and then turn south on the Cassiar. This end of the Cassiar is all paved and in good condition, so we quickly cover the 96 scenic miles to our next stop, Moose Meadows campground on the Dease River at Cotton Lake. Moose Meadows is only $12/night Canadian [US$8] and we are again right on the water's edge, but no hook-ups. The lake is a broad area of the river with a lot of water weed and shoreline grass, very popular with moose. The moose come down to the shore and feed, often plunging into the water right up to their ears so they can graze the lush underwater growth, and we see several. It rains in the evenings but the mountain tops around the lake receive snow and we can see it accumulating already.
The guys take the inflatable boat about 5 miles upstream and do a float trip down the river, enjoying an excellent catch of Arctic Grayling and Northern Pike. Grayling are a trout-like fish that rarely exceed about 16 inches and 1-1/4 pounds, but put up and excellent fight and are a lot of fun to catch. We release about 25, many of them at the upper end of their size range. We also find a pocket of large pike, catching and releasing 5 in the 26-30 inch range, the largest weighing about 7 lb. The day was cold (high about 52) and we got rained upon, but good fishing made up for it and we were quite happy when we finally sighted the campground after 6 hours in the boat.
September 10... Once more we head south through mountains glorious in fall yellows, encountering the first unpaved sections of the Cassiar north of the village of Dease Lake. The first 17 mile stretch is not too bad and we average 35+ mph, though it. South of Kenaskan Lake where we had previously encountered a stretch of terrible road, we find new pavement and cruise along at 60 mph for about 10 miles, but then we hit another unpaved section. The next 11 miles is also not too bad and we average around 30 mph before getting back to pavement. Actually the pavement in that area had a lot of breaks and potholes and in some ways was worse than the unpaved section! But we persevere and eventually reach good pavement again, covering about 200 miles for the day. We overnight at Bell II Lodge, a rather elegant resort with a fancy restaurant, Swiss chalet cabins, sauna, hot tubs, etc. C$27.80/night for full hookups but only 15A service.
September 11... It is only 100 miles further to Hyder so we travel on at a leisurely pace, sighting black bears twice along the road as we go. One is very cooperative and continues feeding on vegetation (berries?) about 20 yards away while we videoed from the coach at the road side. This time we stay at Camp Runamuck in Hyder instead of the Rainey park in Stewart. Runamuck isn't much to look at but has 30A and water and is modem friendly, for only $21/night Canadian [US$14]. It is also close to the bear viewing area up on Fish Creek and we take a run up there in the car. Lots of salmon in the creek but we only see one small black bear and only then briefly. It's a matter of luck whether there are bears out when you go there, so we will return several more times during our stay here. Hope to see a big grizzly, but of course there are no guarantees!
September 12... It is a splendid sunny day and around noon we drive up the 15 mile dirt road that parallels the Salmon River. We pass the bear viewing area along Fish Creek but no bears are around, so we continue climbing along side of the Salmon River to the huge glacier that is its source. The road is open much further than it was back on July 1st and we are able to reach the point where the "river of ice" that is Salmon Glacier makes a 90 degree turn to the west and up the valley into the high mountains where the ice never melts. We get some gorgeous photos. Returning down the rocky trail, we once again reach the bear viewing area and stop for a look. We are in luck! A good size grizzly (nicknamed Ozzie by the rangers) comes out to feed and we watch, video and photo for a half hour or more. At time we are as little as 10-12 feet away, slightly above him on a boardwalk along the edge of the creek. A smaller black bear also comes out but is afraid to enter the water while the bigger grizzly is feeding. He leaves after 10 minutes of wistful looking at the hundreds of salmon spawning in the creek - the expressions on his face are almost human as he looks at the tempting fish and then at the big grizzly!
Paul has found bear and wolf tracks in the sand along the river and he makes plaster casts of them. They come out excellent, with good depth and detail.
September 13... Paul has made friends with a couple guys in the campground and they all go salmon fishing around 6 a.m. Being of a more sane persuasion, I stay in bed. Maybe I should have awakened, because by 9:30 a.m. they are back with 13 splendid silver (Coho) salmon. On the other hand, on the advice of the locals Paul took a his shotgun with him because the bears are also out fishing. Two of them (a grizzly and a black) come quite close, but fortunately there are no encounters requiring the use of the gun.
It is low tide so Nancy & I go 4-wheeling out to where the river empties into the bay and watch eagles, who are also feeding on the salmon. We see at least 10, often several at a time. We also find the tracks of a large wolf in the sand and photograph those.
September 14... It is a rainy day but Paul goes fishing in the early a.m. anyway. He gets two more nice silver salmon, around 10# each. In the early afternoon I get my fishing gear out and go back with him for another try while the girls go to a local flea market. Paul gets two more nice silvers but I catch only chum salmon (also known as dog salmon). Fun, but not good eating so they are released. Nancy & Linda drive out to the river after shopping and find us and take some videos of us fishing. I catch a huge chum salmon, somewhere in the 15-20 pound range, while they video. Nancy and Linda also try the fishing and each catches a big chum - all recorded on video. It is great afternoon for all four of us.
That evening we all go over to the Canadian side (Stewart, BC.) for a pizza, including the two other RV couples whom we had met in the campground. We all had a swell time, crowned with excellent ice cream for dessert at a local ice cream parlor.
September 15... Another rainy day as we depart Hyder. But we are only going 40 miles, back out to the Cassiar Hwy and Lake Meziadin Provincial Park. Meziadin is a beautiful lake shore park with all sites either directly on the water or on terraces overlooking it, for only $12 Canadian per night. Fishing was superb on our last visit here but this time the fish are not cooperating. We pay for one night but the park is officially closed after 9/15 so our second night is free. Up here, they leave the parks open for use as long as weather permits - they just stop collecting fees after the host leaves.
September 17... Still raining lightly as we leave Meziadin and head south on the Cassiar. We reach the Yellow head Hwy and turn east and in mid afternoon we reach Smithers and move into the Riverside Golf and RV Park. Very pretty place, with landscaped sites surrounded by a par 3 golf course [$19 Canadian/night less the Good Sam discount for a 30A and water pull-through]. Smithers is a nice town, so we will stay here two nights.
September 18... During the night it turns colder and begins to rain in Smithers, BC, but the girls still go shopping (all day!) while the guys get haircuts, hit the local liquor store and have so-so lunch at a Chinese buffet place called he North Star Cafe. The weather stays miserable all day.
September 19... The skies clear as we head further east towards Prince George, which we passed through about three months ago on our way north. The road the [Yellowhead Hwy] is good and the day bright and sunny so we enjoy the 240 mile trip to the Blue Spruce RV Park at the edge of town. Nice park, but the weather gods must have learned of our arrival because as we arrived a dark cloud moved overhead and it began to hail pea-sized pellets!
This will be the final stop for our two coach caravan - from here the DeMars will head towards Vancouver and then back to Bend, OR while the Brincks continue east to Jasper and then down through Banf and on to Glacier N.P. We have traveled together since May 24, just short of 4 full months together. Amazing we are all still friends! Linda had remarked at one point that it was like being married to three people at once, but somehow we managed, even eating all our evening meals together. We celebrate with a pleasant meal at the Caribou restaurant in Prince George and return to the coaches for brief farewells. The DeMars will leave early in the a.m. while we linger a bit longer, staying another day before we head towards Alberta and the Canadian National Parks at Jasper and Banff.
September 21... The weather remains cold, in the 40's, as we embark for Jasper, 250 miles to the east, just across the Alberta border. We have a pleasant day of travel and good scenery as we approach the Canadian Rockies. We stop about 50 miles short of Jasper in BC's Mount Robson Provincial Park. Mt Robson is a 12,000 foot, shear-sided behemoth, already covered in snow for about half its height. The Robson Meadows campground is closing for the season the very next day and the host has already left, so nobody comes to collect the camping $17.50 [Canadian] fee. Once again it rains all night - it seems we cannot escape these clouds for more than a few hours at a time.
September 22... We leave Robson in the rain and continue east through mist-shrouded mountains and soon see a large bear in a valley below the road. Then a while later we spot a pair of moose in a watery meadow on the other side of the road. However, neither sighting afforded an opportunity to get off the road so we could take pictures.
We cross into Alberta and the Jasper National Park, set our watches ahead one hour to Mountain Time, and arrive in the Whistlers campground at Jasper around 1 PM. After setting up we head out for some lunch and sight-seeing and right outside the campground we encounter a magnificent bull elk no more than 15 feet from the roadside! His rack of antlers is huge; he struts and poses while we watch breathlessly. Nancy gets some video but I am awe-struck and forget to snap any still photos. He wanders towards the forest and bugles his mating call. Belatedly I remember to get a photo, but I had missed the opportunity for a real close up.
We go into the village for lunch and, on the recommendation of our server, head out to Maligne Lake Rd to see wildlife and scenery. The scenery part is easy - mountains tower all around, masses of pale gray rock with pines on their lower slopes and mantled with snow above. Rivers and creeks abound and large lakes appear periodically. Almost as soon as we start up the road we see some mountain goats. Then by Medicine Lake we find two Big Horn sheep standing right in the road! We drive up right next to them and snap photos and videos from a few feet away. We reach Maligne Lake itself and there is a huge bull moose grazing by the lake's outlet, no more than 75 feet from a bridge that affords us a ringside viewing platform. The moose gets a bit nervous as several cars stop and he swims across the river, stopping to shake water from his thick hide and then wandering slowly up the hillside. But there is a parking area nearby and he walks right through it, giving everyone further opportunity to get photos or merely watch this magnificent animal.
After seeing the bull moose at pretty Maligne Lake, we head back down the valley. Soon we see a cow moose and stop for more photos. Then we again encounter Big Horn Sheep in the road (the same two, I think) and get more super close-ups. One walks right up to me for a sniff as I stand by the car door! At the bottom of the valley where the road joins the main highway, we look up and see a flock of mountain goats on the mountain side about a thousand feet up. There is also a bull elk grazing there. More photos. Driving up the main highway (Rt 16), Ooh-ing and Ahh-ing over the splendid mountains scenery, we find still another herd of mountain goats, these right at the roadside and scattered up a hill. The shoulder is wide and we stop for 10-15 minutes, watching and photoing, once again getting extreme close-ups.
Returning to our campground around, we encounter more elk, a total of three large bulls with mighty racks and one young cow. Each is close to the road, grazing the grasses, and one crosses the road right in front of us. It is the rutting season and we are warned that bull elks are unpredictable and dangerous, but they all tolerate quite well the many tourists stopping for photos. We get back to the motorhome about 6:30 p.m., chattering excitedly about everything we had seen. This has been a fabulous day, easily the best wildlife viewing of the entire trip and with scenery the rival of anything we saw in Alaska! We will head south tomorrow on the Icefields Highway to see more of the Canadian Parks and visit Banff. Lots more scenery awaits us!
September 23 - we drive south one the Icefields Highway in a drizzle. The first part of the journey follows the Athabasca River and we stop at the spectacular Athabasca Falls. It's not real high but the river leaps over a rocky ledge and down through a narrow gorge that it has carved into deep circular wells with the action of its whirlpools. We take many pictures. We also video a cute chipmunk while he contentedly reduces a pine cone to a few shreds to get at the seeds inside. A few miles later we stop at Sunwepta Falls. Nice, but not as spectacular as Athabasca Falls. The rain returns as we continue south so we do not stop at the big glaciers along the way. Besides, we have seen and touched many glaciers already. That afternoon we arrive in Banff.
September 24 - Banff is a tourist shopping mecca but still a nice place, easy to walk around and interesting as well. We have lunch in an excellent Greek place upstairs over some stores, do a lot of shopping (mostly just looking) and have an ice cream cone. The huge Banff Hotel is a sight worth seeing, both for its sheer size and manicured grounds. We spend that evening at one of the park campgrounds, electric hook-up only. We have become jaded on fantastic scenery and decide to depart for Calgary the next morning. Leaving Banff we also depart the Rockies and head out into the flatlands.
September 25 - we arrive in Calgary early in the afternoon and stay at the Pine Creek RV Campground, resting up and taking advantage of the complete amenities (50A full hook-up, modem friendly, & laundry). September 26 - We head south again on PH 2 and stop at Head Smashed In Buffalo jump, a historic site where the ancients herded buffalo over a small cliff to kill them for the tribe's winter food supply. The cliff itself is small and not much to look at but the Native American museum is superb and well worth the stop. The name "Head Smashed In" name supposedly originates from an Indian who wanted to be first at the bottom of the cliff to kill the cripple buffalo and got a bit too close, getting his head smashed in by a falling buffalo. Later we continue on to Cardstrom, Alberta and camp in a nice little town park with full hook-ups for only C$13. It's the Lee Creek valley town park and is listed in Woodall's but not Trailer Life.
September 27 - At Cardstrom is the Remington Carriage Museum, probably the world's largest collection of horse drawn carriages and wagons in the world. We are mesmerized by the beautifully restored carriages of all kinds, some large and baroque, small small for town shoppings and others for farm families. There is also a great documentary movie on the transition from horse drawn carriages to the automobile. There is also a restoration shop and a worker there spends a half hour explaining the differences in carriage designs and construction to us. It is dark in the museum, though, and good photos are hard to take even with a flash.
The next day it snows 1-2 inches as we pack up and head towards the border. About noon we cross back into the USA onto Rt 89 in Montana. The US border guard asks a few perfunctory questions and waves us through. We are home again, though we still have around 4000 miles to go before we will see Florida again. First to Perris California and the National RV factory for a long list of needed repairs and then east to Georgia for the RV Forum Southeast Rally and then home to Florida. Still many fine times along the way too, but this ends the Alaska portion of our travelogue.
This ends the official journal of the Brinck Alaska Adventure, but it will be another six weeks before we return to our Florida home. We will stop at the National RV factory in Perris, CA for some work on the coach, visit with friends in Arizona and Texas and attend the Compuserve RV Forum's Southeast Fall Rally in Georgia on October 30th on the way. PS: Our trip ended up being a total of 14,750 miles and 6 months 8 days.