Canada and Alaska by RVby fulltime RVers Ken and Joan Tarkin
We are Ken and Joan Tarkin and we have been fulltiming for almost four years. We live in a 32 foot Safari motorhome (diesel) and tow a Jeep Cherokee. Our trip begins and ends in Elk, Washington; about 30 miles north of Spokane.
Here is some general information about the trip (remember that this was in 2002 and you can be sure that things change) followed by the journals.
COSTMost groceries and other items in Canada were a little more expensive, but with the exchange rate (approximately a 35% discount) most things were either reasonable or cheap. Two items which were more expensive in Canada were liquor and gas/diesel. For example a 4 liter box of wine was $20 US where we normally pay about $12 for a 5 liter box in the US. Propane was very reasonable in Canada, the average was about $1.20 US/gallon. The most expensive area for diesel and regular gas was the Yukon Territory (diesel - $2.19 US/gallon, regular - $2.11 US/gallon) the cheapest was Alaska (diesel - $1.39 US/gallon, regular - $1.52 US/gallon). The average cost per gallon US on this trip was $1.669 for gas and $1.567 for diesel. Most of the prices in Alaska were more expensive than the lower '48. Calculating our total expenses for the trip we figure that it cost us about $360 more a month. This is mostly attributed to fuel costs (not only is the fuel more expensive - we traveled many more miles than normal) and entertainment expenses. We looked at this trip as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we did not hesitate to spend money on things like boat trips and an airplane sightseeing trip. Things we might not normally do.
HIGHWAY CONDITIONSWe found that the majority of the highways were in good shape, similar to the lower '48. We traveled on a total of 350 miles of construction/gravel roads out of over 7,000 miles (about 5%). Below is a description of most of the roads we traveled on. When we say that the road conditions are good that means we could travel at between 45 and 55 miles/hour. When a paved road has construction it means that that part of the road is either gravel or dirt. Frost heaves are large bumps (similar to hidden speed bumps) which can seriously damage your rig if you do not slow down.
- Alaskan Hwy: 1,390 mile paved road between Dawson Creek, BC and Delta Junction, AK., 90 miles of construction and frost heaves - most of it between Tok, AK and Haines Junction, BC. The rest of the road is in good condition.
- Tagish Road: 34 mile road between the Alaskan hwy and Carcross, BC. 18 miles unpaved but in good condition.
- South Klondike Hwy: 99 mile good paved road between Alaskan hwy and Scagway, AK.
- North Klondike Hwy (part of Klondike Loop): 323 mile good paved road between the Alaskan hwy and Dawson City, YT. Nine miles of construction.
- Silver Hwy: 69 mile road between North Klondike hwy and Keno City. 33 miles are gravel in fair condition (left the mh in Mayo and drove the Jeep).
- Top of the World Hwy (part of Klondike Loop): 79 mile road between Dawson City, YT and Taylor hwy, AK. 66 miles in Canada is paved with 20 miles of construction. The Alaska part of the highway is gravel in poor condition.
- Taylor Hwy (section between the Top of the World hwy and Alaska hwy is part of the Klondike Loop): 160 mile road between Alaska hwy and Eagle, AK. The section between Top of the World hwy and Eagle is gravel, skinny but in fairly good condition. The section between Top of the World hwy and Chicken is gravel and poor condition. The section between Chicken, AK and Alaska hwy is paved with 10 miles of construction.
- Glenn Hwy: 328 mile good paved road between Tok, AK (Alaska hwy) and Anchorage. Some frost heaves between Palmer and Glennallan and between Mentasta Lake and Tok.
- Cassiar Hwy: 446 mile highway between Alaska hwy and Yellowhead hwy (16). Most of the highway is paved except for 42 miles of gravel in fairly good condition. There is also about 4 miles of pavement that is in very poor condition.
- Stewart/Hyder Access Rd: 40 mile highway between the Cassiar hwy and Stewart/Hyder. Road is a good paved road till you cross the border, about 1 mile of gravel road in Hyder.
- Richardson Hwy: 366 mile paved road from Valdez, AK to Fairbanks, AK. We traveled on 225 miles of this road between Valdez and Glennallan and between Delta Junction and Fairbanks. These sections were in good condition.
- Parks Hwy (George Parks Hwy): 362 mile good paved road between Fairbanks and Anchorage. 20 miles of construction.
- Talkeetna Spur: 14 mile good paved road between Parks hwy and Talkeetna, AK.
- Seward Hwy: 127 mile good paved road between Anchorage and Seward.
- Hope Spur: 15.8 mile good paved road between Seward hwy and Hope, AK.
- Whittier Spur: 11.4 mile good paved road between Seward hwy and Whittier, AK.
- Sterling Hwy: 143 mile good paved road between Seward hwy and Homer, AK.
- Kenai Spur Hwy: 39 mile good paved road between Sterling hwy and Captain Cook State Park.
MISCELLANEOUSTake your time and drive slow. You see more wildlife and you are less likely to harm your RV. Get a Milepost magazine, we used it constantly.
We hope you enjoy our journals.
Gypsy Journal - May, 2002
Volume 41Here are two apologies in one paragraph. First, sorry the journal is late. No problem getting phone lines at campgrounds, it was just difficult finding the time to write it. Second, sorry this journal is so long. Since there has been so much to do and see on this trip there is a lot to write about.
This month we started on our trip to Alaska. Our house traveled 1884 miles and we put an additional 680 miles on the Jeep. We started in Elk, Washington, crossed the border into British Columbia and the last day of the month we entered the Yukon Territory.
Before we give you the details of this months adventures, here are some basic information about traveling through Canada.
Everything in Canada is on sale - yup, you read right a 34% discount on everything we purchased. This is truly a wonderful place. The currency exchange rate really gave us that 34% discount. There are a few things that are more expensive here than in the states. The first is wine (also other liquors and beer). We normally by a 5 liter box of wine for under $10. In Canada we paid $20 for a 4 liter box of wine, and that includes the 34% discount. Diesel and gas prices are also higher. The most we paid for gas was $1.81/gallon (US) and diesel was $1.82/gallon (US). Prices for other goods were compatible with US costs - before applying the 34% discount.
Great banks in Canada - no ATM charges (except for Scotia Banks).
The cell phone worked in most of the towns in BC. We are not expecting any service in the Yukon.
The road conditions have been good so far. We have driven a total of 837 miles on the Alaska Highway and the remaining miles on other BC highways. On the Alaska Highway we traveled through about eight miles of road construction (gravel/dirt roadway). Weather was excellent but a little cool with only six days of rain. So far, only a few mosquitoes, maybe it is a little cold for them.
Here are the details of this month's travel.
Crossed the border today on highway 97 at Osoyoos, BC. Took us about 20 minutes at the border. They asked us some basic questions about weapons, liquor, etc.. Then they had us pull to the side and go into Canadian Immigration. There they asked us how long we were going to be in Canada and what states we had lived in. After about a 10 minute wait (we assumed they were doing a computer check) they stamped our passports and we were on our way - no search. It was a beautiful drive on route 3 to Keremeos where we stopped in a rest area for the night. While looking at the map we realized that we were within 100 miles of Kelowna where Ken and Margot Bartlett (friends from our Mexico trip) were residing. We gave them a call, found out that they were home and decided to change our direction and pay them a visit.
5/2 - 5/4
On our drive up Routes 3, 3A and 97 to Kelowna we made two stops. First was an old grist mill in Keremeos. It was not open yet but they let us walk around the property. The mill wheel was being replaced so it was not in operation. The flour mill was built in 1877 to serve the gold traffic along the Dewdney Trail (this trail led to the gold boom town of Barkerville, BC). The last stop was at Lake Oganagan to see the SS Sicamous. This 1914 sternwheeler was beautifully restored. It was used on the lake for both cargo and wealthy passengers. We enjoyed touring the boat.
For three days we stayed at Ken and Margot's RV Resort called the Holiday Park Resort. Wonderful campground and Margot got us a real good price. While we were in the area we:
- Ate at two really fine restaurants: Ricardo's (415 Commonwealth Rd. -in Holiday Park Resort, Kelowna, 250-766-6810) - we rated 4.5 stars. The food was delicious. Their blackened prime rib was tender and spicy. The other restaurant was the Greek House Restaurant - 4 stars (3159 Woodsdale Rd., Lake Country, 250-766-0090). Here we highly recommend the lamb shoulder.
- Visited three museums in Kelowna. The Orchard Industry Museum and Wine Museum were in the same building and neither were very good. The Kelowna Museum was excellent and featured the history of Kelowna.
- Toured the Father Pandosy Mission. This restored settlement mission was built in 1860. Father Pandosy played an important roll in the development of this area.
- Visited the previous home of the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen. The house has been converted into an expensive restaurant and the grounds are quite beautiful
5/5 - 5/7
We drove 230 miles from Kelowna to Hope, BC. We had to retrace our steps back to Route 3 and then head west. Although the weather was rainy (with a little snow), the drive was beautiful. The highway took us through Manning Provincial Park and over a couple of passes, the highest approximately 4,500 feet. The snow was still about 2 feet deep.
We stayed at the Telte-Yet Campground in Hope which was conveniently located right in the city. Hope is a beautiful city surrounded by 7,000 foot mountains and two rivers: the Fraser and Coquihalla. Hope calls itself the "Chainsaw Carving Capital of the World". There are over 25 large size carvings throughout the town. These carvings, mostly of animals, are beautiful and very intricate. It is hard to believe that they are done with a chainsaw.
We took a nice hike along an old railroad bed that runs along the Coquihalla river. This trail leads to a beautiful canyon where the railroad had to carve out four tunnels called the Othello-Quintette Tunnels. We also went to see the Hope Slide. Thirty-five years ago part of a mountain slid down and filled in a section of the valley. Four people were killed and it buried the highway and a lake in 200 feet of rubble.
5/8 - 5/9
Long travel day today, took an hour to drive 42 miles to Boston Bar, BC. But what a drive. We are taking TC 1 (Trans-Canada) which is the major east/west highway in Canada. At this point TC 1 follows the Fraser river north through the Fraser valley. This valley separates the Coastal Mountain range on the west with the Cascade Mountain range on the east. We stopped at a wonderful RV park called Canyon Alpine RV Park.
One of the most popular attractions in the area is Hell's Gate. At this narrow section of the Fraser river a cable car crosses the canyon and brings you down to nearly river level. On that side is a good museum explaining the fish tubes installed to help the salmon make it through this section of the river. During construction of the railroad bed a blast caused part of the bank to fall into the river and decreased the river's width by half. This increased the current going through the section and the salmon could not swim against it. To solve this problem baffled tubes were installed. The baffles slowed down the current and the fish could swim through the tubes. The tubes even provided fish rest areas. The salmon population is now approaching what it was prior to the slide. There is also a suspension bridge across the canyon that provides a birds-eye view of the river.
We took a short hike to the old Alexandra Bridge which was built in 1926 and also spans the Fraser river. This beautiful suspension bridge looks like a miniature Brooklyn bridge.
5/10 - 5/12
After 79 miles we arrived in Cache Creek, BC. The terrain made a drastic change after passing the town of Lytton. We went from a heavily wooded valley to a high desert environment with fewer fur trees and sage brush. The temperature also increase by a good 10 degrees.While in Cache Creek we spent a day at Hat Creek Ranch. The buildings on this ranch were built between 1860 and 1901. Originally it was built as a roadhouse along the Caribou Wagon Road which was the main road during the gold rush to Barkerville. A guide took us on an interesting tour of the roadhouse. In another section of the property is a Shuswap Nation village. A Stuctwesemc Indian gave us a tour of the village. We also got a ride on a stagecoach - definitely did not ride like a Cadillac.
5/13 - 5/14TC 1 turns to the east but we continued north on Route 97. In 81 miles we arrive at 100 Mile House, BC. The town is called 100 Mile House because it was at the 100 mile marker on the way to Barkerville during the gold rush. We stayed at a nice little city park called the 100 Mile House Village Campground.
The visitor center staff helped make our stay in 100 Mile House truly interesting by suggesting and arranging some interesting side trips. While we were there we:
- Toured the manufacturing complex of Original Log Home. Each home is built on the OLH property. The pieces are marked and then the house is taken apart and shipped. All the cutting for the joints is done freehand by chainsaws and hand chisels. The only large cutting machines they use is one that takes the bark off the logs and a band saw for making a few flat cuts. They use massive logs for their homes, anywhere between 12-14 inches in diameter. Since the logs are not machined, they have to be stacked with consideration to the changing diameter from one end to the other. The end products were very impressive.
- Toured the Ainsworth Lumber Company's O.S.B division. OSB stands for oriented strand board. These wood sheets are similar to particle board or plywood. About 60% of the wood used is aspen which is not normally used in the construction trade. The trees are debarked and cut into manageable lengths before bringing them into the facility. The factory process starts with a soaking. Next the wood is cut/chipped into small pieces (strands) about 2 inches by 4 inches by 1/8 inch thick. The strands are soaked in a solution of wax and resin. The strands are then laid out in a continuous sheet that is nine feet wide and has four layers. This sheet is cut every 25 feet and enters a machine which heats and compresses the sheet. Finally the 25 feet pieces are cut to the desired size (4X8 while we were there). This was a really interesting tour and took about 1 1/2 hours.
- Visited the Tomlinson Studio/Gallery in Lone Butte. The studio is located in the beautiful home of Tom and Olga Tomlinson on Sulphurous Lake. Tom gave us a tour of his studio where he creates lithographs (A printing process in which the image to be printed is rendered on a flat surface, as on sheet zinc, aluminum or stone, and treated to retain ink while the non-image areas are treated to repel ink). Tom uses a large limestone slab to create his images, and makes numerous transfers to create multi-color images. We knew nothing about lithography and Tom did a wonderful job teaching us the basic principles. Later Tom and Olga gave us a tour of their home and their artwork. Wonderful people, we had a great visit and hope to visit again on our way back.
5/15 - 5/20A short trip of 52 miles brought us to the Dugan Lake Forest Service campground which is close to the town of 150 Mile House. On the way we stopped at the 109 Mile House Heritage Site which is another restored roadhouse. Although it was not open we did walk around the property looking at the buildings.
This stop was really a rest stop, nothing to see - just relaxing and enjoying Dugan Lake. Can not beat the price - it is a free campground. We made some new friends. Mike and Karen are full time RVers from BC. We traded some pocketbooks with them. They also gave us a brooky (trout) that Mike had caught - delicious. Ron and Roberta are also full time RVers and are heading towards Alaska. We traded some of Joan's home-made cabbage soup for some delicious plum muffins. Ken thinks that we got the best end of that deal. We will probably meet up with Ron and Roberta on our travels up north.
5/21Continuing on Route 97 we drove 89 miles to Quesnel, BC. Visited the Quesnel museum which was a disappointment. However dinner at the River Rock Pub and Restaurant (290 Hoy St., Quesnel (250) 991-0100) was a 4 star delight. Excellent steak and pork schnitzel.
We were going to head towards Barkerville (old gold rush town) but decided against it. The town is in the mountains where there was still over three feet of snow. We plan on visiting it on the way back in the fall.
5/22After 184 miles on Route 97 we reached Mackenzie, BC. Along the way we had our first wildlife sighting in Canada. Saw two moose. Mackenzie has a free campground (no hookups) which we took advantage of. Mackenzie is the home of "The Crusher". This land clearing machine (tree crushing machine) is impressive. It is 56' long, 21' high, 35' wide and weighs 175 tons. It has two rollers (8'x30') similar to a steam roller except the rollers have blades and they knock down and shred trees that get in their way. The drive is two electric motors powered by two diesel generators. It can push over trees up to 6 foot in diameter.
5/23 - 5/25We continued on Route 97 for 184 miles to Dawson Creek, BC. Shortly after leaving Mackenzie we crossed the Rocky Mountains at its lowest pass in BC (2868feet). Unfortunately it was rainy and foggy and we saw very little. We stopped at Chetwynd to look at the chainsaw sculptures (another "Chainsaw Sculpture Capital of the World"). Although the carvings were very good they did not compare to the ones in Hope. Along the road Joan saw a black bear.
Dawson Creek is our first milestone on this trip. The town is mile 0 on the Alaska Highway. There are a number of things to see here so we stopped for three nights at the Alahart RV Park - right on the Alaska Highway (about mile 1). Dawson Creek is similar to mid-western towns in the states. The population is about 13,000. Dawson Creek is basically an agricultural area.
Dawson Creek gained importance during the construction of the Alaska Highway (then know as the Alcan Highway). After the bombing of Pearl Harbor it was decided that Alaska needed to be protected from attack from the Japanese. In order to defend the state we had to be able to move troops and supplies to that area, so a road had to be built. The highway was built in 1942 and completed in 8 months and 12 days. Of course "completed" is a relative term. At that time it was called a pioneer highway and was constructed of dirt, gravel and logs. It was only passable in the winter since a number of rivers did not have bridges and could only be crossed when frozen. After an additional 10 months the bridges were completed and it became a year round highway. The Alaska Highway is 1,390 miles long starting at Dawson Creek, BC; going through the Yukon Territory and ending at Delta Junction, Alaska. At Delta Junction it meets the Richardson Highway which continues either to Fairbanks or Valdez, Alaska.
While we were in Dawson Creek we:
- visited the Dawson Creek Visitor Center and Museum were we saw a good film on the construction of the Alaska Highway.
- checked out the art gallery that was in an old restored grain elevator. The exhibit was not that good but the building was impressive.
- walked through the halls of the George Dawson Inn. They have an excellent collection of photographs showing the highway construction.
- drove to the Kiskatinaw River bridge which is the only original all timber bridge that is still usable (although the Alaska Highway does not go over it any longer). This bridge is not only curved, it is also banked. It is a beautiful piece of construction. The bridge is 531 feet long and 100 feet above the river.
- went to a community concert of an Elvis impersonator. He was very good. We felt sorry for him, there was very few people in the audience.
- took a day trip to Tumbler Ridge to see the Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park. The falls dropped 225 feet (higher than Niagara Falls) and were beautiful. It was a big wildlife day, we saw: deer, caribou, moose and a black bear. The bear even performed for us by standing up on his hind legs.
Our house now has a 12" crack in the windshield. We do not agree where it came from. Ken says a rock hit it just before we got to the campground (we did not notice it until we left) and Joan says that we had a chip there before and it just grew.
5/26 - 5/30Four days and 457 miles later the Alaska Highway took us to Liard River, BC. We made three stops along the way. The first stop was a highway pull-off by Sikanni, BC. Saw a gray fox along the way. The next stop was at a Forest Service trailhead by Tetsa, BC. The road had been running parallel to the Rocky Mountains from Dawson Creek and every turn presented new vistas. We saw some caribou and deer. Stopped at Fort Nelson and enjoyed their municipal museum. They had many items from the building of the Alaska Highway. They also had a stuffed moose that was white.
After a beautiful drive through the Rocky Mountains we stopped at Muncho Lake, BC. Saw a lot of wildlife today: moose, caribou, deer and stone sheep. Stone sheep are similar to long horn sheep except they are brown and they have thin walled horns. The sheep only exist in northern BC and the lower Yukon. Stayed at Strawberry Flats campground in Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Muncho Lake is a beautiful aqua green lake. The coloring is from copper being leached from the ground by the water flowing into the lake. One of the things we wanted to do at Muncho Lake was take Captain Jake's boat tour. Unfortunately the lake was still frozen so the trip was off. We will never forget the color of the ice on the lake and the beautiful ice strands created by large plates of ice rubbing against each other. We took an excellent hike on part of the old pioneer Alcan Highway, definitely a rough road.
At Liard River we stayed two nights at the Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park. The hot springs at this park are fantastic. There are two natural pools, the top pool is about nine feet deep and the temperature is about 104 degrees. The bottom pool is about three feet deep and ranges in temperature from about 99 at the dam section to 120 degrees. We spent two days enjoying the hot water. We took a short hike to Teeter Creek Falls, beautiful. Ken did have to repair one of our exhaust fans. A switch had a bad connection and by the end of the repair he also had to fix the connections on the motor (he broke both of them off).
As we keep heading north and the date keeps getting closer to June 21st the days keep getting longer and longer. The other day the sun rose at 4:45 AM and set at 10:00 PM. And during the "night" it never really got dark - just a kind of twilight.
5/31Today we drove 177 miles and entered the Yukon Territory. Along the way we saw our first bull moose. The moose decided to race us as we were driving along the highway. They are pretty fast, about 25 miles/hour. We stopped at Watson lake to see the Signpost Forest. People stop here and place signs and license plates on posts in the park. There are over 42,000 signs and plates and they average over 2,000 new ones each year. We went to the Watson visitor center which had excellent displays and photographs. We also went to the Northern Lights Center which has daily shows about the Northern Lights in their multimedia theater. The show was not very good. We spent the last night in May at a roadside pullout by Rancheria, Yukon.
Well, that was May. We had a great month. Everything was new and exciting. June will bring us more things to see and do. We will take a side trip down to Skagway, Alaska and then head north to Dawson City, Yukon. After that, we are not sure.
Hope this l o n g journal finds you with blue skies and comfortable temperatures.
Ken and Joan Tarkin
Gypsy Journal - June, 2002
Well, this is going to be another long journal. We spent most of the month in the Yukon Territory and the remainder in Alaska. Yes, we finally made it to Alaska. Our travels included 1269 miles on the house and 561 miles on the Jeep. The weather has been excellent, only a couple days of rain and daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70's.
Daylight has been lengthening noticeably this month. Each day, as we go further north and we get closer to June 21' we have seen more and more sunlight. Basically there is no more nighttime. For example, on June 14 the sun rose at 3:51 AM and set the next day at 12:41 AM. And when the sun sets it does not go down very far so there is plenty of light (twilight). Great for our solar collectors.
Here are the details of this month's travel.
6/1Drove 116 miles on the Alaska Highway today. Stopped in Teslin to go to the George Johnson Museum. Johnson was a Tlingit Indian and was quite the local character. He brought the first car to Teslin - well before there were any roads to drive on. He brought it to Teslin by boat and drove it on the lake when it froze for the winter. The museum displayed Johnson's photographs and described the Tlingit origins, beliefs and way of life. It is an excellent museum. We stopped at Mukluk Annies for the night. Mukluk Annies is famous for its Salmon Bake - and its free campground. We enjoyed both (3.5 stars for the bake). A free houseboat ride on Teslin Lake was included with the dinner - enjoyed that also.
6/2 - 6/6A side trip off the Alaska Highway offered us our first entry into Alaska. We turned off the highway onto the Tagish Highway and then turned south on the South Klondike Highway; in only 147 miles we were in Skagway, Alaska. The Tagish is a gravel road but in very good shape. The South Klondike Highway took us over White Pass (2900 feet cold and very foggy) and down into Skagway. Just before we got into town we saw an eagle perched on an old mill, we were within about 20 feet of him - impressive.
Skagway (and the town of Dyea - a couple of miles away) was the drop off port for stampeders on the way to the Klondike gold rush. Basically the stampeder route to Dawson City, Yukon (site of the Klondike gold rush) started by water from San Francisco or Seattle, up the Lynn Canal (a fjord from Juneau) to Skagway or Dyea. From Skagway the stampeders climbed the White Pass to Lake Bennett. From Dyea they climbed the Chilkoot Pass to the same lake. At Lake Bennett they made boats and floated down the Yukon River to Dawson City.
In 1897 Skagway was a lawless city controlled by a con-man named Soapy Smith. Today it is a major cruise ship stop. Without cruise ships the town would probably decline into a ghost town. It is amazing to see the transformation the town makes as the boats pull in. Everyday three or four ships pull in dropping off over 2,000 tourists for shopping and other tourist attractions. When the ships leave, the town falls asleep until the next ship arrives.
There are a lot of things to do in and around Skagway. Here is some of the things that kept us busy.
- Part of the Gold Rush National Historical Park is located in Skagway (there is also a section of the park in Seattle, Washington). The park service has restored a number of the historic buildings in Skagway. A ranger took us on an excellent tour of the town providing further insight into the town's history.
- We also took a ranger-led tour of the Dyea town site. Nothing remains of the town but, with the help of the ranger, we did get a rough picture of what it was like.
- Ran into Norb and Pat Boesl whom we met at a motorhome rally in 1999. It was really neat seeing them here in Alaska. We also met Carol and Jeff who we first met at Mukluk Annies.
- We took a boat to Haines, Alaska. The trip took about 30 minutes down the Lynn Canal. We took a walking tour of the town and the historic Fort William H. Seward. Visited the Sheldon Museum, an excellent museum dealing with pioneer and Indian life in the area.
- Another day we took a boat trip along the entire Lynn Canal to Juneau - about 90 miles. The Lynn Canal is the longest fjord in North America (a fjord is a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between steep slopes). Along the way we saw hundreds of eagles, hump back whales, stellar sea lions, harbor seals, Dall porpoise and one mountain goat. While in Juneau we: went to the Mendenhall glacier, took a bus tour of the town, visited the historic St Nicolas Russian Orthodox Church, checked out the Red Dog Saloon (even Wyatt Earp visited the saloon), and checked out some of the shops.
- Went to a performance of the Days of '98. This show has been performed in one form or another for 76 years. It was a lot of fun - with a little Skagway history thrown in for color.
- Took a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad. The construction of this railroad was started in May of 1898, reached the summit in February of 1899 and completed to Lake Bennett in July of 1899. Later the tracks were continued to Whitehorse, Yukon. Of course the purpose of the railroad was to eliminate the need for the stampeders to climb the two passes on their way to the Klondike. The train took us up to the summit and back. It was a beautiful trip. It is hard to image the hardships the workers went through to lay the track for this railroad - it is unbelievable terrain.
- The house water pump decided to go belly-up. Luckily we had a spare so Ken was able to get the water running again.
6/7 - 6/10
A drive of 95 miles brought us back into the Yukon and to the town of Whitehorse. We should mention that both border crossings at the US/Canadian border were effortless - a stop of about 2 minutes both ways. The weather was good over White Pass this time and the scenery was excellent.
Whitehorse is on the Yukon river and marks the point where the river becomes navigable. Sternwheelers traveled from Whitehorse to the Bering Sea in Alaska. There is plenty to do in Whitehorse and of course we tried to do everything.
- Took a walking tour of the city that was guided by a member of the historical society. Interesting tour.
- Went to a performance of the Frantic Follies, an excellent vaudeville show. It included singing, comedy, dancing and even some banjo pickin'.
- Checked out the country's largest weather vane. Located at the Whitehorse airport, this weather vane is a Canadian Pacific airplane (CF CP4) mounted and perfectly balanced on a rotating pedestal. The plane always turns to face the wind.
- We took a boat ride on the MV Schwatka up the Yukon river through Miles Canyon. Miles Canyon, prior to a dam installation on the river, was the home of some rapids that caused problems for the gold stampeders as they were coming down river. Later we hiked along the canyon rim which was better than the boat ride. The hike took us to the site where Canyon City was located. The stampeders stopped at Canyon City to prepare for the trip through the canyon rapids.
- We visited a number of good museums in the area: the Transportation Museum, Beringia Interpretive Center and the MacBride Museum.
- We took a guided tour of the SS Klondike. This sternwheeler was used on the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Basically it moved passengers and supplies to Dawson and picked up silver on the way back to Whitehorse. They did an excellent job restoring the ship and the tour was great.
6/11Next we made a right off the Alaska Highway to travel the Klondike Loop. The loop consists of the Klondike Highway to Dawson, Top of the World Highway from Dawson to Alaska and the Taylor Highway back to the Alaska Highway at Tok, Alaska.
We drove 139 miles the first day. An important stop was the Braeburn Lodge (mm 51). They have great cinnamon buns. Best tasting and largest (eight inches in diameter and four inches high) so far. The first night we stopped at a highway pull-off that overlooked the Five Finger Rapids on the Yukon River. In the morning we hiked down to the rapids - met plenty of mosquitoes on the way.
6/12Drove 120 miles today. About nine miles of construction muddied up the house and Jeep (construction area was watered down to decrease dust). We took another side trip up the Silver Highway and parked our house at a highway pull-off about five miles south of Mayo. We took the Jeep and headed into Mayo where we visited the Binet House. The house was built in 1922 and is now a museum. We got an excellent tour of the museum. Mayo is on the Steward River and existed as a warehousing and port town for the silver mines. Silver ore was brought to Mayo where it was loaded on a small sternwheeler (SS Keno) and brought down the Steward River to the Yukon River. From there it was transferred to barges and other sternwheelers to be brought either upstream to Whitehorse or downstream to St. Michael, Alaska (on the Bering Sea).
Left Mayo and continued up the Silver Highway to its end at the town of Keno. In the 1920's Keno was the center of silver mining in the Yukon and was the backbone of the Yukon's economy for over 40 years. The town is still hanging on with a population of 30. They have a great museum located in the old dance hall. We drove to the top of Keno Hill (about 6000 feet) which provides stunning views. The air is so clear in the Yukon you can almost see forever.
6/13 - 6/22Went back down the Silver Highway and then continued up the Klondike Highway. In 134 miles we reached Dawson City, home of the Klondike gold rush. Very strange driving in to Dawson, all you see are piles of rocks (tailings). Do you remember the old cartoons where gophers would attack a house's front lawn and leave nothing but rows and rows of dirt mounds? Well, that is what the area around Dawson City looks like, except they are rock mounds and they were created by a dredge - more on dredges later.
Bought fuel (diesel) for the house in Dawson, the most expensive fuel we have ever purchased - $1.933/gallon.
The town itself is unique. Parks Canada put a lot of money into the town by purchasing historical buildings and property and then restoring them to what they look like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The town still has dirt streets (except for Front Street which is the Klondike Highway) and wooden sidewalks. Obviously we enjoyed this town, we stayed here for ten days. There was so much to do and see, here is some of the things that kept us busy:
- Took a guided tour of the city provided by Parks Canada. The tour took about 2 hours and was quite interesting.
- Took a tour of Dredge #4, the largest wooden hull dredge in North America. This dredge is huge, five stories high and about 400 feet long. Before explaining the dredge you should know a little about how gold was mined in this area. During the gold rush claims were staked up and down the gold-baring creeks, mainly Bonanza Creek. The person who made the discovery could claim 1000 feet of creek, the width included the valley from the mountain range on one side of the creek to the mountain range on the other side of the creek. Other miners could then stake claims on either side of the discovery claim for a length of 500 feet. No miner could stake more than one claim on the creek (although he could purchase other claims). Initially miners would simply pan, sluice or use rockers to separate the gold from the other surface material. After the gold was removed from the surface material the miners dug holes to find gold in the material below the surface (down to bedrock). This process was very slow because of the permafrost. The ground had to be heated by wood fires before digging could take place. After a couple years of mining, large corporations started buying out the miners claims. Soon all the claims were owned by a couple of corporations - and in came the dredges. Dredges were able to process large areas quickly. Years before the dredges arrived the whole area was drilled and core samples were used to determine where the gold was located. From those drillings a map was drawn up that illustrated the path a dredge would take. Most of the dredges were built in the lower 48. They were shipped in pieces up the Yukon River to Dawson City. A hole was dug (at the location indicated by the map) and the dredge was put together in that hole. After the dredge was assembled, the hole was filled with water and the dredge floated on the top of its small pond. The ground had to be prepared prior to dredge operation. This was done by forcing cold water through pipes down to bedrock melting the permafrost. The dredge operation was fairly simple. A conveyer belt with large buckets was used to dig in front of the dredge (this dredge could dig up to 57 feet below the water line). The buckets then deposited the dirt and rock in a revolving drum located inside the dredge. The revolving drum had holes up to and inch in diameter on the outside of the drum which allowed smaller rocks and gold to fall out. The larger rocks exited the back of the roller and were moved out of the dredge by conveyer belt and deposited at the back of the dredge. The smaller material fell into sluice boxes and the gold was separated from the other materials. After finishing an area the dredge was moved forward by winches and the process would continue. A dredge could move about ten feet a day, making a hole in the front and filling in the hole in the back. This tour and the dredge was really impressive.
- We took a tour of the Commissioner's house. In Canadian territories a commissioner is like a state governor. Until 1953 Dawson was the capitol of the Yukon Territory (Whitehorse is now the capitol) and the commissioner lived in this beautiful home along the banks of the Yukon river. Much of the house is restored. Joan also went to a tea at the commissioner's home which was the highlight of her day. Tea included music and other entertainment. Ken said guys do not do teas - his loss.
- Took a hike to a sternwheeler graveyard. Down river about a mile from Dawson is an area where sternwheelers were stored on shore every year for the winter. Well, after one winter they never got put back on the river. There are about 5 boats there, all in various stages of decay. Neat place to visit.
- Visited the Dawson Museum which has interesting displays on the history of Dawson. One short coming of the museum was that they had very little information on the Indians that lived in the area.
- Saw a couple of strange colored foxes in the area. They are called cross foxes and their fur is a combination of black, gray and white.
- Visited the Bear Creek Maintenance Camp where all maintenance equipment for the dredges was housed. Got an interesting tour of the gold room where the gold was purified and melted into blocks for shipping.
- Visited two famous author's cabins. Robert Service's cabin is original and at the original location. It was built in 1905 and Service lived in it for four years. Jack London's cabin was moved from its location on the Stewart river. The cabin was taken apart and two cabins were made, each had half original logs and half reproductions. One cabin was shipped to Seattle and the other sits in Dawson City.
- We went to a performance of Gaslight Follies in the Palace Grand Theater. The Palace has been rebuilt by the government and is beautiful. We had really neat seats, box seats in the balcony. Unfortunately the musical comedy was not very good.
- One of the highlights of our visit was meeting up with Ron and Roberta. Remember the folks we were camped next to on Dugan Lake in BC? We got together one morning and they taught us how to make sausage. A lot of fun and the sausage is great. We also had dinner with them one night. Just like the first time we met, we exchanged food - they gave us some homemade wine and sour dough rolls - both were excellent. Hope to see them again down the road.
- Another highlight was meeting the couple who were camped next to Ron and Roberta. They lived in the Dawson City area between 1947 and the 1960s. He actually worked on a dredge and also worked at Bear Creek Maintenance Camp. It was really interesting listening to their tales about working and living in this area.
- Took a 100 mile loop drive around the mining areas. Beautiful drive. We saw a number of active mines along the way. There are 35 active mines this year in the Dawson area.
6/23 - 6/25From Dawson a free ferry took us across the Yukon river and onto the Top of the World highway. We got to the ferry early in order to miss the rush, unfortunately a 22 vehicle RV caravan got there a couple of minutes before us - turned into a two hour wait. The scenery along the Top of the World highway is beautiful and the road itself was not too bad (in Canada), about 18 miles of gravel and construction. In 66 miles we entered Alaska and put our clocks back an hour to Alaska time. We were through the border in minutes and continued on the Top of the World highway for another 13 miles to Jack Wade Junction. Those 13 miles were all gravel and in poor condition. A number of spots had serious washboards. At Wade Junction we made a right on to Taylor highway for a side trip to Eagle, Alaska, 64 miles to the north. Taylor highway is all gravel but fairly smooth. It was, however, very dusty. By the time we got to Eagle (total for the day was 143 miles) there was dust everywhere: closets, drawers, counters, all the storage bins, and the Jeep. Ken also had to replace a number of rivets that broke along the way. But that section of the Taylor highway had the most beautiful vistas we have seen.
The northern section of Taylor highway stops at Eagle. Eagle sits in a beautiful location on the Yukon river. The town has a population of about 140 people which includes an Indian village of approximately 30.
John gave us a three hour tour of the town. The historical society runs one tour a day and it is a good one. We learned some of the history and went through five historical buildings including a number of historic Fort Egbert buildings that have been restored by the BLM. Fort Egbert was originally built to bring law and order to this area of Alaska. It was also used to house supplies and men who were running a telegraph line between Valdez, Fairbanks, Nome, St Michael and Eagle. Later, a line was run between Valdez and Seattle which linked Alaska with the lower 48. Eagle became the custom's port for all river traffic along the Yukon river.
During the tour we also learned about life in "modern day" Eagle. John has lived in Eagle for over 30 years - he proved to be a very knowledgeable guide. Taylor highway closes down in the winter and the only way into or out of Eagle is by plane. In the winter people get around town by foot, four-wheeler, snowmobile or skies. Eagle has a town generator which supplies electricity. Everyone has a phone connected to a main switchboard which relays calls through satellite. There is a town well that is over 60 years old and supplies drinking water for most of the residents - individual wells supply water for other uses. Residents drive their four-wheelers down to the well and fill up their jugs with a nozzle that was once a service station gas nozzle. Although there is a grocery store in town, most people call up grocery stores/department stores in Fairbanks, order there food/supplies and the store flies the stuff in.
The National Park Service has a camera located on a bluff focused on a falcon nest. We got to see the falcon sitting on her eggs - neat.
The last night we were in Eagle we were invited to a bead circle/jam session. Had a great time. Ten women beaded and talked while three guys and a couple of gals played guitars, fiddles and a keyboard and sang music from the fifties. In case you are not sure - Joan was with the beaders and Ken was with the musicians. It was a great opportunity to talk with the folks in Eagle - they all were very proud of their town. Even the residents admit that there are some serious mosquitoes in Eagle - we certainly used up a lot of spray.
6/26We had a little rain the night before the 26th so the Taylor highway was not as dusty going south as it was going north. We traveled 90 miles on the highway to Chicken. After passing the Wade Junction (were the Top of the World highway starts) the road got rougher, definitely slow driving. A couple more rivets needed replacing. We spent the night in the parking lot of Downtown Chicken. Downtown Chicken consists of a gift shop, saloon and a café. The three stores were under one roof and were all owned by a friendly couple who were happy to have us stay in their lot.
6/27After checking out the Chicken cinnamon buns (good, but not as good as Braeburn Lodge) we drove 75 miles to Tok. Sixty-six miles on the Taylor highway and we were back to the Alaska Highway (after Chicken the Taylor Highway was paved and only had about 10 miles of gravel and construction). Hung a right on the Alaska highway and Tok was less than 10 miles away. In Tok we stayed at the Gateway Salmon Bake RV Park. Camping is free if you have dinner there. We did and dinner was pretty good (3.5 stars).
6/28One hundred and seven miles on the Alaska highway brought us to Delta Junction - the end of the Alaska highway. We stopped at the visitor center to find out if the pipe line pump house was still giving tours. As we suspected they stopped all tours after 9/11, so we started north on the Richardson highway towards Fairbanks. We stopped at Big Delta State Historical park where we took a walking tour of Rika's roadhouse and other buildings that were part of this small community.
The community sat on the Tanana river alongside the Valdez to Fairbanks trail. (early 1900s to late 1940s). The roadhouse is now a very nice gift shop. If you are in this area around lunchtime have a reindeer sausage sandwich and bear claw at their restaurant - both are delicious (4 star).
We got our first look at the Alaska pipeline where it crosses the Tanana river. It is a much larger pipe than we expected. We stopped for the night at a highway pull-off with a beautiful view of the Alaska Mountain Range - A total of 128 miles today.
6/29 - 6/30Today we drove 74 miles to Fairbanks, Alaska. We stopped at the town of North Pole so Joan could go shopping at Santa Clause House - Ken stayed home and read.
This journal is certainly long enough, so we will talk about Fairbanks next month. Remember, it is not our fault that the journal is so long - it is the Yukon and Alaska's fault. If there was nothing to do or see there would be nothing to write about.
We do not know how any place can top what we saw and did this month - but that is how we felt last month. In July we will head to Denali National Park and places south.
Ken and Joan Tarkin
Gypsy Journal - July, 2002
Volume 43 Life can not get much greater than this. We are writing this as we look out our house's windshield at the mountains and glaciers on the other side of Resurrection Bay. This is our last day in Seward, Alaska - more on Seward latter. This month we put 879 miles on the house and traveled from Fairbanks through Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. We also drove the Jeep 711 miles.
The weather has been great, only about five days of rain. It is actually getting dark in the early morning now. Partly because we have been heading south and also because summer is half over here.
Here are the details of this month's travel.
7/1 - 7/5We spent seven nights in Fairbanks (including June 29 and 30). Fairbanks is not a real attractive town, but there were a number of things we wanted to do and see while we were there. Including some serious cleaning of both the house and the Jeep. You would not believe the amount of dust that was in the bottom bins of the motorhome, a real mess. We stayed at a number of different places: Norlite Campground (they had a free RV wash area and phone line to get our email), Alaskaland, and the Fred Meyer's parking lot.
While we were in Fairbanks we:
- Went to the University of Alaska Museum. This museum is a must see if you are in Fairbanks. It does an excellent job of presenting Alaska history. While at the university we also saw a demonstration of traditional Eskimo games and a program on the northern lights.
- Took an interesting trip on a 900 passenger sternwheeler called the Discovery III. This 3.5 hour trip took us on the Chena and Tanana rivers. The cruise included a stop at Susan Butcher's Trailbreaker Kennel (Susan Butcher was an Iditarod champion four times - 1986-1988 and 1990). Susan discussed a dog's life at her kennel where she trains over 100 dogs to pull dogsleds. The cruise also stopped at a recreated Indian village. We learned how the Indians caught and processed salmon. Dixie, an Athabascan Indian, was on had to show us her bead work, beautiful clothing. She has a jacket on display in the Smithsonian.
- Spent July 4th at Alaskaland. They had a day long program which included a marching band (9th Army), cannon salute for each state flag, parade, bagpipes, F16 fly-over, craft bazaar and a number of different musical groups. We had a lot of fun. Alaskaland is an interesting place. They advertise it as the only theme park in Alaska. We almost did not go because of that billing. It is a theme park, but not in the sense that we use the term in the "lower 48". The park includes about twenty old log buildings that were built in the early 1900's in Fairbanks. They were all moved to this site and restored. Most of the buildings now house craft stores. They also have a restored sternwheeler, a recreation of an Indian village and an airplane museum. There is no admission charge to the park. Alaskaland is also known for their salmon bake which we did not check out (you can only go to so many salmon bakes).
7/6 - 7/9From Fairbanks we got on the George Parks Highway and headed south. We stopped at the town of Nenana to check it out. The town has a population of 450 people. The highlight of the walking tour was St. Marks Episcopal church (1905) and the Alaska Railroad Museum (not much at the museum, it was in disarray because a drunk had driven his car through the building). After driving 142 miles down Parks Highway we arrived at Denali National Park. We found a great spot to dry camp about 6 miles north of the park.
The Alaska Mountain Range was awesome, but instead of a heavily wooded area (our expectations) much of the land was tundra - basically low bushes/trees and grass. There is a park road which goes about 85 miles into the park, private automobiles are only allowed on the first 15 miles. Other than the road the only access is by foot or air.
We took a day trip on a park bus (school bus) that drives the park road to Wonder Lake. The trip took 11 hours. We saw a lot of animal life including a large herd of caribou, a couple herds of Dall sheep (Dall sheep are similar to big horn sheep but they are white), two grizzly bears, a red fox and a large bull moose (about seven foot at the shoulders). It was a great trip.
While we were in the Denali area we took a number of ranger led hikes and went to the nightly ranger programs. On one of our walks we saw a moose and her two calves, up close and personal. We also went to the sled dog demonstration. The park rangers use sleds during the winter and in the summer they give these demonstrations to the visitors. We got to meet and pet the dogs and then they hitched up a team and drove it around the area. Very interesting.
One of our neighbors played the ukulele so we jammed one night. He was a pretty good musician. At one of the ranger talks we ran into Tom and Shirley Anderson. We first met them a number of years ago in Urbana, Virginia at a Safari rally. It was great to see them again and, as you will read later, we keep crossing paths.
Now the important question - did we see Mt. McKinley. While we were at the park we got to see it once, and it was impressive. Mt. McKinley (named Denali by the Indians) is the largest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet. But what is really impressive about this mountain is how big it looks. It has the largest vertical rise of any mountain in the world - 18,000 feet from the flats near the base to the summit. For comparison, the Teton mountains are almost 14,000 feet high but you look up at them from an elevation of about 6000 feet - that's a vertical rise of 8,000 feet (less than half of Mt. McKinley).
Denali is a wonderful national park and we had a great time while we were there. But the story of Mt. McKinley is not over yet.
7/10Continuing on the Parks highway for another 157 miles we arrived at Talkeetna. Along the way there were a number of places where we had good views of Mt. McKinley, but a small amount of the top was covered in clouds. Our main purpose for stopping in Talkeetna was to take a flight around McKinley with Talkeetna Air Taxi.. This will probably be the highlight of our stay in Alaska. The flight left at 7:00 PM and lasted 1.5 hours. The weather was beautiful and we saw every part of the mountain as we made a complete circle around it. The plane held seven passengers and flew at about 14,000 feet. We saw many glaciers, including the Ruth glacier that was over 3,800 feet deep and three miles wide. At one point there was grass and trees growing on dirt that was on top of 100 feet of glacial ice. We (well everyone on the plane but Ken) saw a group of people climbing the mountain. This flight is indescribable, do not visit Denali without seeing the mountain from the air.
We felt right at home in Talkeetna, it has a very friendly atmosphere. In the morning Ken walked down to the river and enjoyed some beautiful views of Mt. McKinley without a cloud in the sky. Joan found that the gift shops in town were excellent.
7/11Another 76 miles down the Parks highway (about 10 miles of construction in this section) brought us to Wasilla where we spent the night at one of our favorite places - Wal-Mart. We went to the Iditarod headquarters which had a mediocre museum but a good movie on the race. We met a fellow whose father created the race - last name of Reddington. We had an interesting talk with the fellow and definitely made the visit worthwhile. When we were pulling out of the headquarters Tom and Shirley Anderson were pulling in. They followed us to Wal-Mart and invited us to their place for dessert that evening. Homemade rhubarb pie and ice cream - very good (even Ken liked it and you know how he feels about anything called rhubarb).
7/12Today's drive took us 130 miles. We finished up the George Parks highway (another 10 miles of construction), drove a short section of the Glenn highway to Anchorage, and then the Seward highway. The Seward highway continues into the Kenai Peninsula. Finally we turned off the Seward highway for a short drive along the Hope highway to, you guessed it, Hope. We did not stop in Anchorage, it appeared much like a "lower 48" city so we decided to pass it up. The Seward highway has our vote for the "most scenic route". As you leave Anchorage you drive around the Turnagain Arm. This stretch of water comes off the Cook Inlet and the drive is breathtaking. Alaska sure has a way of combining water and mountains. We parked for the night at a roadside pull off with a beautiful view of the Turnagain Arm (about six miles east of Hope). Hope is an interesting town with a population of 130. It started as a mining town and there are still a number of original buildings left standing. We were woken up in the morning by the bore tide. We did not see it (did not make it to the window in time), but we sure heard it - sounded like a freight train. A Bore Tide is caused by the tide coming in and encountering a skinny area (Turnagain Arm) that the water has to go through. This causes a wave that, in the arm, reaches up to six feet high.
7/13 - 7/16Leaving Hope we got back on the Seward Highway and turned west on the Sterling Highway to the town of Soldotna (88 miles). We found a nice gravel lot to park in, along with 80 other RVs - all of them filled with fishermen. This area of the Kenai Peninsula is world renowned for salmon fishing. The two most popular salmon fishing rivers are the Kenai river and the Russian river. They practice a sport known as combat fishing: fishermen/women line the rivers shoulder to shoulder to do there thing - it is an amazing site.
While we were in Soldotna we:
- Did the laundry at a very fancy laundromat. This place had showers, television, pinball machines and washers and dryers that worked.
- Hiked the Russian River trail which brings you to a spot where the salmon jump up the rapids - really impressive to watch. We also talked to the fellow who counts salmon at a weir on the river. Interesting person with a strange job. He counted 85,000 salmon on the first king salmon run.
- Took a drive along Cook Inlet to Captain Cook State Park. A nice drive with some beautiful scenery.
- Went to the town of Kenai and took the walking tour. The highlight was the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Had an excellent meal at Don Jose's (44109 Sterling Hwy, Soldotna 907-262-5700). This was a 4.5 star Mexican restaurant (in Alaska no less!). We can highly recommend the asada burrito with a spicy green sauce, cheese enchilada and a chili relleno. The sauces were especially good.
7/17 - 7/20Continuing 85 miles south on the Sterling highway got us to Homer. The ride was outstanding. The road follows the shoreline of Cooks Inlet with beautiful views of a mountain range and three large volcanoes (over 10,000 feet).
In Homer we stayed at a city campground on the spit. The spit basically separates Cook Inlet from Kachemak Bay. We took a ride along Kachemak Bay until we ran out of road, beautiful trip.
Homer has an excellent museum called the Pratt Museum. Especially noteworthy is the Tlinget Indian exhibit that is on loan from the Smithsonian.
Homer is known for its halibut fishing. Many charter boats leave the harbor every morning in their quest for halibuts ranging in size from 20 pounds to over 300 pounds (the average is about 60 pounds). It was great fun to hang around the spit when the charters come in and watch the dock folks preparing the halibut for freezing - they sure can cut up those fish quickly.
Ken got to jam with a tenor banjo player. We also met some Escapees (RV club) and had a campfire with plenty of singing. Our new friends are Lon and Kay Lowen, Dick and Dorothy (did not get their last name) and TommySue and Harell Hicks. Joan did some painting with Kay.
On the last day we went to the Summer Street Fair and checked out all the crafts.
7/2Next we headed back up the Sterling highway to Ninilchik (85 miles). Our first stop was at Anchor Point to watch them putting boats in Cook Inlet. Since they have no boat ramp they use a large tractor to get the boat trailers out into the inlet so the boat can we launched or picked up - certainly a unique way of doing it.
We also took a little side trip to the Russian village of Nikolaevsk to have lunch at the Samovar Russian Café. We rated the meal at 3 stars (it was the first time we have had Russian food, which makes it hard to rate) but it was certainly a 5 star experience. The café and gift shop is run by the bubbling and lively Russian Nina Feflov. The café was closed when we got there but Nina and a traveling French student were there. Nina made a deal with us - if we would give the French student a ride to Ninilchik, she would open the kitchen and feed us. Lunch started with borsch soup and peerog. The peerogee were made with a bread-type pocket filled with potatoes or cabbage. Very different from Polish pierogie. The main course was Pelimeny, similar to meat ravioli but without the sauce. Cream puffs were dessert. Throughout the meal Nina would entertain us with Russian music, stories and sales pitches (for items in her gift shop). After lunch Nina dressed us, and herself, in Russian clothing so we could pose for pictures. Following that she gave us a tour of here rooms that she rents. Nina was a trip and we really enjoyed our visit.
We took the French student to Ninilchik and parked at a highway pull out for the night. While we were there we toured the town. Ninilchik is a small Russian Village with one little store, a couple of houses, a church on the top of the hill and a harbor that the residents use to keep their fishing boats. The harbor can only be used at high tide, so the tide controls the time to fish and the time to return.
7/22 - 7/3Returning to the Sterling highway and then south on the Steward highway brought us to our last stop this month, Seward, Alaska (134 miles). We stopped at Cooper Landing for a 4 star lunch at Gwin's Lodge(14865 Sterling Highway 907-595-1266). We definitely recommend their cheese steak sandwich and fries.
Resurrection Bay is a beautiful location for the town of Seward. Most of the time we just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. While we were there we:
- Visited Exit Glacier in Kenai National Park. This is the only glacier that you can drive to. A short hike from the parking lot brings you to a beautiful glacier. And yes it is true, glacier ice is blue. Ken saw a porcupine while we were there.
- Saw two movies at the library on the 1964 earthquake. This earthquake and the tsunami (tidal wave) that followed destroyed many coastal towns in Alaska including Seward and Valdez. The earthquake also affected Anchorage. The damage was unbelievable.
- Spent a lot of time just sitting in front of our house watching the bay. Saw a sea otter and a sea lion. Also got to watch the cruise ships leave the port. Each morning and afternoon hundreds of boats (tourist cruises, fishing charters, private boats) would go sailing past our house. We even watched a boat on fire being towed out of the harbor to burn and sink.
- Met Shirley and Tom in this town also. We spent a day with them on a cruise to Kenai National Park. What a great boat ride. The Arctic Lake is smaller boat that holds about 20 passengers. The main goal of the trip was to visit the Holegat Glacier. This is a tidewater glacier, meaning it terminates in the water. What a beautiful site. The boat got very close to the glacier which rises 1200 feet above the water. We got to see it calve a number of times. The noise the glacier makes is impressive. When the ice cracks it sounds like thunder. Along the way to and from the glacier we saw: humpback whales, orca (killer) whales, sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, puffins (bird), and kittiwakes (bird). It was great seeing Tom and Shirley this month, we hope that we will met up with them again - maybe in Valdez.
- Had a jam session with our next door neighbors Ann and Roger Shoch from Fort Washington, Maryland. Ann is an excellent piano player. The guitar and piano (portable keyboard) sounded pretty good together. Joan and Ann also had a good time painting the beautiful scenery.
- Went to the Alaska SeaLife Center. This is a research center owned by the University of Alaska. Although we thought it was a little expensive, we enjoyed their exhibits. You get real close to some of the animals including: sea lions, harbor seals and puffins. They also have a pretty healthy octopus.
We hope you are healthy and enjoying the summer.
Ken and Joan Tarkin
Gypsy Journal - August, 2002
Volume 44This month we finished up Alaska and started our journey back to the lower 48. Well we missed a lot, so we will have to return again. We did a great deal of traveling this month, putting on 1,935 miles on the house as we traveled through Alaska, Yukon Territory and British Columbia. We also put 585 miles on the Jeep.
Here are the details of this month's travel.
8/1We were planning to leave Seward today but changed our plans. Got a phone call from Laura and Bob Madigan (whom we met at a rally in Oregon) who were in Cooper Landing. They drove down to Seward to spend the day with us. We had a great time, especially during the jam session (Bob is a harmonica player) on the beach. At one point we had quite a crowd singing along with us. It was fun seeing Bob and Laura again and a great excuse to stay an additional day in Seward, one of our favorite spots in Alaska.
8/2 - 8/3
After returning 81 miles up the Seward Highway we stopped at a large gravel lot outside of Portage for a couple of days. Portage is the home of the Portage glacier. Our first stop was the Chugach National Forest Visitor Center at Portage glacier. Very nice center with an excellent film on glaciers. When the center was first built the glacier could be viewed from the building. Unfortunately, the glacier has receded to a point where it is no longer visible from the center. At the visitor center we saw live glacier worms. These small worms (about 1/2 inch long) live in the upper area of the ice. At night the worms travel to the ice surface and feed on bacteria and pollen.
We hiked to the ice field below Byron glacier. Beautiful walk. Byron glacier is a hanging glacier, which means it terminates high on the mountain. At one time the ice field we walked on was part of the glacier.
We took a drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel to Whittier. Initially Whittier was only accessible by train, plane or boat. In June, 2000 the Whittier train tunnel was converted to a multi-use tunnel. Traffic alternates directions each half hour with electronically controlled signals at staging areas on both ends. It is the longest highway tunnel in North America at 13,200 feet (about 2.5 miles).
Whittier is a strange town, we did not see any houses. Almost the entire population of 290 people live in either an old condominium built by the Army or a slightly newer apartment complex. We found out, from the owner of an ice cream shop (which we just happened to visit), that there are four cabins we missed.
While we were on the Whittier side of the mountains we hiked over Portage Pass. This pass was used hundreds of years ago to cross the mountains. From the pass we got a beautiful view of Portage glacier.
If you are in Whittier have some fish (halibut) and chips at Varly's Swiftwater Seafood Café - the best Joan had in Alaska (4.5 stars).
8/4 - 8/7
Only 81 miles brought us to our next stop; Palmer, Alaska. Our route completed the Seward Highway followed by the Glenn Highway from Anchorage to Palmer. We had a great campsite overlooking the Matanuska river (and it was free). Our new friends, Ann and Roger Shoch (who we met in Seward) joined us one night. We got a change to jam again - Ann is the piano player.
There were plenty of things to do in the Palmer area, we:
- Visited the Palmer visitor center which has a demonstration vegetable garden next to it. Got a chance to see those really big Alaskan cabbages. Also saw some large onions, kohlrabi and rhubarb.
- Toured the Colony House Museum. In 1935 the US government (Roosevelt's New Deal) started a farm colony in the Palmer area. Two hundred and two volunteer families were selected to settle in Palmer. The government supplied and arranged financing for: transportation (including transportation of personal possessions), 40 acres of land and a house. The Colony House Museum was housed in one of the original government supplied homes and was furnished with many original items. Our tour guide was the daughter of one of the original settlers and provided an outstanding talk on the house, its furnishings and colonial life.
- Took a guided tour of a musk ox farm. The musk ox is an Arctic Circle animal related to the goat. It is farmed for is fine second layer of fur called qiviut. Qiviut is considered far superior to wool. The musk ox is a strange looking animal, and not too friendly.
- Had an excellent tour of the Independence Mine State Historical Park. Independence Mine was a gold mine that processed hard rock goal. After our tour we continued up the road to Hatcher Pass (3,800 feet) which provided beautiful views of the mining country.
8/8 - 8/13Leaving Palmer we continued on Glenn Highway and then made a right on Richardson Highway to Valdez. It took us two days to travel the 265 miles. The last 50 miles of the Richardson Highway were absolutely beautiful (now first on our list of scenic by-ways). A highlight of that 50 mile stretch was the Worthington Glacier. This beautiful glacier terminates not more than a mile from the highway. After parking in the lot, a short walk brought us within touching distance of the glacier. Also along the drive was Keystone Canyon which had two lovely falls: Bridal Veil and Horseshoe.
Valdez is a beautiful port city surrounded by mountains, glaciers and waterfalls. Unfortunately the weather caught up with us here and we had rain every day but one. We still kept busy, we:
- Celebrated Gold Rush Days with the rest of the town. One event was a parade which included a couple of entries we had never seen in a parade - boats on trailers and skimobiles on trailers. There was plenty of candy (thrown to the crowds) for the kids - and us. They had a free fish fry for dinner and it was excellent (Ken had hot dogs). Dining entertainment was supplied by five members of the US Air Force Band of the Pacific, they were great. Because of the rain the affair did not have the expected turnout and there was a lot of food left over. They gave us about ten pounds of marinated salmon and five pounds of hot dogs. We found a way to jam it in our tiny freezer.
- Toured the Valdez Museum. They have an excellent city museum. Ken liked the two 1905 fire water pumpers and Joan liked the quilts. They also had an excellent display of old photos of the gold rush period.
- Saw two bears in our campground (well - Joan saw them and told Ken about them).
- Took a drive and hike in Mineral Creek Canyon to an old stamp mill (place where they crushed and processed ore to remove gold). The scenery was wonderful, waterfalls everywhere.
- Watched pink salmon (Humpies - smallest salmon averaging 3.5 to 4 lbs.) spawning in a creek just outside of town.
- Continued our search for excellent restaurants - and we found another 4 star delight, Ernesto's Mexican Restaurant. This is not a fancy place. You place your order at the counter and pick it up when it is ready. Both the tacos and the chili verde pork burritos were excellent.
8/14 - 8/19Leaving Valdez we returned up the Richardson Highway, made a right on the Glenn Highway and then another right on the Alaskan Highway. It took us five days to arrive in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; a total of 634 miles. The stop at the Canadian border was interesting. For the first time we had to pay duty on the wine we had in our house. Canada allows visitors to bring in 1.5 liters of wine per person. We have always had more than five liters of wine when we cross the border and the customs people have always let us go. This time we had ten liters of wine and we got to pay $29 (US) for duty on the extra seven liters. After that small investment in Canada's economy we zipped right through customs.
The road between Tok, Alaska and Haines Junction, Yukon Territory was probably the worst section on the Alaskan Highway. There was more than 70 miles of construction. Keeping the speed between 30 and 40 mph kept the bouncing to a minimum and the cinnamon buns in our hands.
Along the way we stopped at the Sheep Mountain Visitor Center in Kluane National Park. Here we got to view the Dall sheep through their telescope. We also stopped at the Kluane National Park Visitor Center in Haines Junction. They had a good slide show on the park.
We stayed at the Wal-Mart (one of our favorite stops) for the two days we were in Whitehorse. This Wal-Mart is a popular RV stop, there were over 30 RVs here both nights. While we were here we got some shopping done, the oil changed on the Jeep and Ken got a haircut (but he wouldn't let them touch his Alaskan beard - which he has not trimmed since we started this trip in May). We also went to see the fish ladder. While we were there we saw them removing eggs from a dead salmon. They will use the eggs at their hatchery.
8/20 - 8/27It took us 7 days to drive 657 miles to Hyder, Alaska. We had a couple of days of hard rain and two stops lasted for two days. Mainly we were trying to avoid heavy mud on a few of the dirt stretches of the Cassiar highway. Our route took us from Whitehorse east on the Alaskan highway and then south on Cassiar highway. At Meziadin Junction we headed west along the Stewart/Hyder Access Road. The Cassiar had two sections that are gravel/dirt/mud for a total of 42 miles and another 4 miles that were simply very lousy road. The rest of the road was pretty good.
Our first stop of interest was the Tlingit Heritage Center in Teslin. They have a really good display of Tlingit masks. That night we stayed at a boat ramp off the highway in the town of Upper Liard. Around 7:00 PM a fellow (Native American) stopped by our house and said that we were parked on Indian land and if we were staying overnight we had to pay him $10. Joan discussed this with him, telling him we would not pay because we did not think it was his land and he had no ID papers saying he could collect money. The nice young fellow said ok, he would go talk to his chief and we never saw him again. Since there was a bar down the street we think he just needed some additional spending money.
We also stopped in Jade City to visit their two stores (that is about all there is in Jade City). The mines in the Jade City produce about 75% of the worlds jade supply.
Along the Cassiar we saw three black bears. We also saw some free ranging horses. It was interesting how they controlled the horses without using fences. Each horse had a belt wrapped around his front legs, so when he moved he had to hop. A couple of horses also had cow bells attached to their necks. The horses did not seem to mind being bound up - but it sure made us feel sorry for them.
The Cassiar was another beautiful stretch of highway and so was the Hyder access road which brings you past the beautiful Bear glacier.
The towns of Stewart, British Columbia and Hyder, Alaska are about 3 miles apart but there is a world of difference between the two. Steward is a fairly typical BC town: neat and clean with paved streets and sidewalks. Hyder is probably what Hollywood would present as a typical Alaska town: buildings old and run down with muddy dirt streets (most Alaskan towns are similar to of lower 48 small towns). We enjoyed both towns even though the weather was rainy during our two day stay.
Hyder is famous for the bears at Fish Creek. The US government has built some beautiful viewing decks along the creek so us tourists can watch the bears fish for salmon. During the two days we were in Hyder we visited Fish Creek three times and did not see one bear - we did see thousands of salmon. The bears probably do not like rain and mud.
8/28 - 9/1Retracing our steps back to Meziadin Junction we continued south to finish the Cassiar highway and then west on Yellowhead highway to Terrace, British Columbia. Along the way we took a two mile detour to the Indian village of Gitanyow. They have a large display of very impressive totem poles. Some of these poles are reproductions of totem poles that are over 200 years old (the originals are in an open shed in the same area).
- Our first stop in Terrace was the visitor center where we learned there would be a Labor Day celebration called the Skeena Valley Fall Fair. When we also found out that one of Terrace's best restaurants is a Mexican restaurant we knew that this was a good place for us to stop for a couple of days. While we were in Terrace we:
- Celebrated our 34 wedding anniversary at the best restaurant in Terrace (of course), Don Diego's Restaurant (3212 Kalum St., Terrace 250-635-2307). Great restaurant, 4 stars. Don Diegos is unusual, they post their entire menu on a blackboard and change the menu daily. Only about half of their entries are Mexican, although our guess is that all of them have a Mexican flair. Joan had spinach and rice and Ken had a shrimp chili relleno. Their desserts were very, very good.
- Drove to Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Park. This park is a joint venture between BC Parks and the Nisga'a Indians. They have a very interesting visitor center where the volcano eruption and lava flow are described through the Indian beliefs and folk lore. Great visit.
- Attended the two day Skeena Valley Fall Fair. Included in the fair were 4-H animal judging, logging events, entertainment, craft/baking contests, craft booths, and horse events. We had a good time, especially watching the logging events, farrier demonstration (making and installing horse shoes) and the horse pulls.
Ken and Joan Tarkin
Gypsy Journal - September, 2002
Well we made it back to Elk, Washington - officially completing our journey through Canada and Alaska. This month we traveled through British Columbia and Washington putting 1,373 miles on the motorhome and 626 miles on the Jeep.
Here are the details of this month's travel.
9/2 - 9/4
From Terrace we headed west on the Yellowhead highway. After 97 miles we were at the end of the road - Prince Rupert, British Columbia. We enjoyed our short stay in Prince Rupert, there were many things to keep us busy including:
- Walking around Cow Bay, a nice little tourist section along the bay. There is an interesting story behind the name Cow Bay. A ship captain was delivering cows to Prince Rupert but he had a problem. There was no port facilities to unload the cattle. His solution was to drop the cows in the bay and let them swim ashore. They came ashore in the area now called Cow Bay.
- Touring the Museum of Northern BC. The museum was excellent. A Native American gave us a tour of the Indian displays, very interesting. We later meet up with our tour guide at the carving shed where he was painting a new carving he had made.
- A couple nice hikes in the area.
- A visit to the North Pacific Historic Fishing Village. This is the oldest (late 1890s) surviving canning complex. In its day the area included not only the canning buildings but housing villages for all the workers. Still standing are some of the management and workers houses along with most of the cannery buildings. We took a number of tours that described cannery production, village life and fishing methods. We spent almost the whole day at the cannery, it is a great historic site.
9/5 - 9/6After driving east on the Yellowhead highway for 221 miles we stopped for two nights in Smithers, British Columbia. This is the second time we stayed in a Canadian Tire parking lot. They certainly make us feel welcome! They have signs welcoming RVers and offering them special parking areas for overnight stays.
We drove to the town of Old Hazleton where we took a walking tour of this attractive town. On the road to Hazleton you drive over a one lane suspension bridge (Hagwilget Bridge) that provides a beautiful view of the Bulkley River 300 feet below. We also visited the Indian town of Kispiox that had an impressive collection of 15 original totem poles, some of them between 100 and 150 years old.
9/7 - 9/9It took two days to drive 348 miles to Wells, British Columbia. First east on the Yellowhead highway to Prince George and then south on PR 97 until we made a left on Hwy 26 for the 55 mile drive to Wells. Probably one of the most interesting attractions in British Columbia is Barkerville, only about 6 miles from Wells.
Barkerville started out as a gold town, the area was the largest gold producing site in BC. In 1868 the town burned to the ground and was rebuilt in two weeks. The town was never a ghost town, but the last full time resident died in 1979. There are over 100 buildings in the town, many have been refurbished, restored or rebuilt. A number of buildings are furnished with period pieces. The town has a number of excellent docents who perform scheduled reenactments, tours and historical dramas. They were marvelous. Performances included a demonstration of a Cornish waterwheel (water wheel which provides power to pump water from the mine, move ore out of the mine shaft and get miners in/out of the mine shaft), court of law drama, tour of China town, tour of main street and also a theater performance. We spent almost two days in Barkerville and enjoyed every minute.
9/10 - 9/14Retracing our drive on Hwy 26 we then turned south on PR 97 heading for Lac La Hache. Two days and 173 miles later we pulled into a campsite at the Greeny Lake Forest Service Campground. This is a truly beautiful campground - and it is free.
Karen and Mike Bennett were camping at the lake so we got to share their campfires for a couple nights along with another couple, Jim and Sally Williams. The Bennetts had told us about Greeny Lake when we met them in May at Dugan Lake. It was fun seeing the Bennetts and meeting Jim and Sally. Hopefully our paths will cross again.
We ate at an excellent restaurant (recommended by Karen and Mike) called the Hungry Bear Diner (4007 PR 97 [junction with Timothy Lake Rd.], Lac La Hache). This is a 4.5 star restaurant. Great down home cooking, large portions, home-made pies and the price is very reasonable.
We discovered that we had picked up some hitch-hikers while parked in Wells - three mice. Took us about a week to catch the suckers. Ken is having difficulty determining how they got into the house.
9/15Continued down the road for 22 miles for a one night stop at 100 Mile House. We stopped here so we could visit Roy and Olga Tomlinson whom we had met in May when we were heading in the other direction. Had a great visit, it was just like visiting old friends.
9/16Traveling south on PR 97 for 115 miles we stopped in Spences Bridge to visit our friends Ron and Roberta. We had also met Ron and Roberta at Dugan Lake and then ran into them again in Dawson City. Ron and Roberta cooked us up a great pork chop dinner and provided great company. We hope we will run into them again in the states this winter.
Thanks to Ron and Roberta we left their house with a lot of fresh fruit from their yard: two types of grapes, apples, plums and cucumbers. Great eating.
9/17 - 9/30Two days and 347 miles brought us to our daughter's house in Elk, Washington. We had no difficulty getting through US customs - about 5 minutes for an agricultural inspection - probably had something to do with all the fruit we had in the house (we had also stopped at a fruit stand and purchased a case of peaches and a case of tomatoes).
That officially completes our trip through Canada and Alaska. We had a great time and will do it again. During the trip (round trip from Elk, WA) we traveled 7,340 miles in the house and the Jeep was driven 2,821 miles. The journey lasted 140 days and included 61 nights in Alaska, 54 nights in British Columbia, 24 nights in the Yukon Territory and 1 night in Washington.
The remainder of the month was spent in Elk, resting and relaxing. While in Elk we also:
- Repaired some of the small things on the house that needed work. Changed the air filter (breathing a lot of dirt on the gravel roads clogged it up), repaired some wiring, replaced a number of outside lamp bulbs, got the dirt out of the battery slides, washed the poor thing and replaced a couple support bracket bolts.
- Went to two 4 star restaurants. Had great Mexican food at the Azteca (200 W Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane 509-456-0350) and Indian food at the Taste of India (3110 N. Division St., Spokane).
- Went to an excellent concert of the Spokane Symphony. Arnaldo Cohen was the featured pianist.
- Ken went to another concert which included both the symphony and the Kingston Trio. The trio still has one original member, Bob Shane (the one who sang Scotch and Soda). They were very good, and of course Ken loves their folk music.
- Joan has been volunteering her time at the Boys and Girls Club of Spokane (where Joanne works). Ken also does a little computer programming for them.
That is all for September. We will be staying at Joanne and Chads for about another week and then we will start heading south. We found a real deal on a cruise to the Panama Canal on Holland America so we decided to go for it. The cruise leaves San Diego on October 26 so we will be heading in that direction.
Ken and Joan Tarkin