Welcome to our site. Here you'll find updates on our adventures including pictures and stories. Visit regularly to see where we've been and what we've done. (And any travel stories!)
We'll miss you and think of you throughout our travels!!
Jennifer & Wendell
Webster’s Dictionary defines grace as: 1. Effortless charm or beauty of movement. 2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement. 3. A favor rendered voluntarily. 4. A power granted by God. In layman terms one might think of Grace as something given that is not deserved by the receiver and with no expectation of repayment or the movement of a well trained dancer.
I have often thought of naming a bird dog Grace. There are so many things about a fine bird dog that reminds me of grace. There is the effortless movement in the field almost as if he or she has the ability to glide just above the surface of the ground. The intensity of a dog on point with a full cone of bird sent hitting it in the face, one foot raised and tail straight. If Michael Angelo had sculpted a bird dog on point in addition to David, the dog I am certain would be considered the greater of the two works simply because the figure of the dog is so intense (a kind of grace). Then there is that part about something being given that is not earned or paid for. Those of us who keep bird dogs often make the mistake of saying that we own such and such dog. If you have been around bird dogs as much as I have you would know better. Bird dogs just tolerate us, they let us come along to watch and admire their style, their grace, their scenting ability and their company. That is it; they have extended to us grace sufficiently to let us accompany them for a few seasons in the field, to marvel at their beauty and grace totally undeserved by us.
So by now I am guessing that you are wondering just what this has to do with the Alaskan Journal; nothing at all and everything. Jennifer and I have just completed what I expect to be the greatest adventure of our lives. We have traveled 10,247 miles in the motor home plus over 2,000 miles in the Jeep in just over 60 days. We have seen the sun at midnight inside the Arctic Circle on the Summer Solstice. We have seen brown and grizzly bears (actually these are the same bears they are just called Brown bears when they are close to the coast and grizzly bears when they are not) and black bears too. We have conversed with moose, caribou, musk ox, fox, coyotes, porcupine, ptarmigan, ruffed grouse, pheasants and a couple of skunks. We learned first hand that everything called a highway isn’t (can you spell Al-Can?). We have caught huge fish (halibut) as well as some spectacular small ones (arctic grayling) and salmon. We brought home some Knife River Flint from North Dakota that just over 150 years ago would have been worth a good horse. We followed along behind Lewis and Clark, saw a Mandan Indian Village, the Great Falls of the Missouri, and some modern day Indians living on reservations. We met a lot of fine folks. And, we got to spend more time together than we have in the last 5 years combined. I could go on, but I think I have made my point.
The point is that one does not earn the right to take a trip like this to see and do the things Jennifer and I have seen and done. In its own way it is a kind of grace that makes it possible, it was not earned, we can not be thankful enough for the opportunity. To all of you who have followed along on this blog, who have offered encouragement, read my ramblings, spoken so highly of Jennifer’s photography and said a prayer for us…Thank You! We hope that you too get to follow your dreams and that by the Grace of God they come true.
These are lyrics from a western tune I like telling the story of a cowboy who had just survived his first encounter with an Indian raiding party. That is kind of how Jennifer and I feel today. We are really learning how to pray. On Monday after waiting on hold for one hour and twenty-eight minutes I finally got to speak to person in the Monaco (the manufacturer of our motor home) parts department and was able to order the Control Arms needed to repair our motor home. I asked for them to be shipped overnight air, but as it turns out the parts were too heavy and in addition to that they did not even get them on a truck until Tuesday afternoon. They did call and say that they had sent them second day freight which means that if we are lucky the parts will arrive here tomorrow. Which means with God’s help and some good luck we might be able to escape North Dakota by Saturday morning? If this reads like I am complaining that is not my intent. I knew that something could happen when we decide to take a 12,000 mile road trip through some very remote and rough areas. That said, I would really like to get on the road home again.
We have been able to find some interesting activities around the Bismarck area to occupy our days. Yesterday (7-28) we drove out to Fort Abraham Lincoln and the On A Slant Indian Village. Ft. Lincoln was the home post for G. A. Custer when he left on what turned out to be his last campaign meeting his end at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Both of these sites are well worth the effort to see. J and I spent over six hours between the two of them. The Custer house had been completely rebuilt (because the original one burned) at the fort and some of the furnishing can be traced back to the General and his wife. There is also a reconstructed enlisted men’s barracks, a commissary, a granary and a stable. Adjacent to the cavalry post is old Ft. Mckeen (an infantry post) the site of the original military presence in this area. Ft. McKeen sets on a hill with a 28 mile view. Three Block Houses have been reconstructed on the site giving a visitor a sense of what the fort was like when it was being manned.
I suppose the one thing that I found most interesting was the post cemetery. There are only a few grave markers left, but the ones that are left tell of a hard life. All of the markers state cause of death. We saw several with the note “Froze to Death”, one suicide, several drowning and many that noted they were shot either by Indians, civilians or themselves (accidently not suicide).
On the way back to the hotel I found a very nice archery range with a 14 target walking course. After retrieving my bow and a few arrows I spent a couple of hours on the range. If felt good to pull the bow and release arrows again. I hope to get back out there this afternoon if it quits raining.
We awoke this morning to very cool weather and rain. We decided it was an excellent day to visit the state heritage museum. The museum has a fine collection of fossils, artifacts of the first people (the early arrivals to North America during the Ice age), as well as many displays of the modern era. We spent about four hours there and perhaps saw a third. But, even I at some point need a break from museums.
When Jennifer and I were dating back 40+ years ago this CCR (Crediance Clearwater Revival) hit song "Stuck in Low Dive" was popular. We have been in far worse places than Bismarck, ND to be stuck in over the past two months like somewhere in northern British Columbia or the Yukon Territory, but the truth be told I had rather not be stuck at all.
The saga of the broken motor home continues and gets a little worse each day. First the thought was that a cooling hose had broken, second they thought I had hit something that caused a hole in the transmission housing, third the thought was that a drive shaft had been installed that was too long when the coach was manufactured, fourth they are thinking that a failed control arm on the right and a bent control arm on the left (caused by the right one breaking) all caused the coach chassie to drop down driving the drive shaft into the transmission housing. The good news is the transmission will be fixed on Monday, the bad news is that they have not even been able to order the control arms so we may be lucky enough to get out of here on Wednesday or Thursday.
We are finding ways to spend our time here. Yesterday we drove about 60 miles west to the Enchanted Highway to see the largest metal sculptures in the world (see pictures posted). Today we are hoping to get out to the Knife River Indian Village. I also plan to look for some of the famous knife river flint while we are out there. Knife river flint is very hard which made it especially valuable to Indians for tool and arrow head making. Early mountian men used it to start fires (flint and steel method) as well as a replacement for warn flints in the flintlock rifles and pistols. I would love to find a piece along the river.
Saturday evening update - The Knife River Indian site far exceeded our expectations. It has been determined through the archeological record that this site has been occupied for several thousand years. At the time of Lewis and Clark's expedition the area was occupied by the Hidatsa. The site has a nice visitor center which provided a historical prespective of the area, a walking trail out along the Knife River with interpretive signs and a fully recreated Medicine lodge. The best thing though was that we just happened to visit on a day when the local folks were having a "Cultural Fest" at the site. There were several tipis with demonstrations of flint knapping, bow making, beading, blacksmithing along with Indian games and a field where we could try our hand with an ATL ATL. An ATl ATL is a ancient spear throwing stick used to gain leverage in throwing a spear by extending the length of the arm and allowing the thrower to introduce risk action thus increasing the speed and therefore the energy of the spear. But, best of all iIpicked up several pieces of Knife River Flint. The largest of the pieces is destined to become one of my most prized positions. We managed to spend close to six hours enjoying the history and the people.
We also have Fort Lincon (remember Gen. Custer) - this is where he was stationed when he set out to find the Indians before the Battle of the Little Big Horn. I believe the Custer house has been restored and is open to visitors. We will probably visit this tomorrow
Then there is Fort Mandan where Lewis and Clark spent a winter and just north of there met a Indian woman, Sakakawea, who was invaluable to them on the rest of their Journey of Discovery.
Sprinkled in with some email, some Marriott work and a conference call this should get us through Monday afternoon. Tuesday we are hoping we are gettting ready to load up the motor home and get out of here on Wednesday. Pray that we that we do not have to find something to occupy more days here.
We left Great Falls, Montana yesterday morning (7/21) traveling northeast through Ft. Benton making the final turn to the east at Havre. This portion of our travels has been filled with history of the old west. To start, Ft. Benton is the oldest town in Montana and until the railroads came it was a busy center at the end of west bound steamboat travel on the Missouri river. Today Ft. Benton is nothing but a sleepy little (very little) tourist town on the banks of the river as the railroads eliminated the need for steamboats and bypassed Ft. Benton in favor of easier routes.
There are several Indian reservations along this route starting with the Rocky Boy’s then Fort Belknap followed by Fort Peck. Traveling through these islands of Indian life it is not hard to imagine that just three generations back some of the ancestors of these people were living in tipi’s. Many today live in poverty moving from one mobile home to another as they become unlivable. Maintenance and upkeep of their homes seem to be foreign concepts.
The Hi-Line gets it name because it traverses the state east to west just south of the Canadian border. There were several forts located along the route as it was a primary travel route even for the mountain men and Indian tribes before the railroads and roads were established. The first railroads into the area closely followed this route. Chief Joseph’s battle ground of the Bear’s Paw is just south of the highway about 20 miles east of Havre. Those of you who remember western history may recall the gallant flight of the Nez Perce Indians and Chief Joseph’s famous quote when he finally surrendered after the battle of The Big Hole just 30 miles south of the Canadian border, “From where the Sun now stands I will fight no more forever”.
We spent last light on the shore of Lake Fort Peck. The lake is impressive. First the dam forming the lake is the largest earthen fill dam in the world spanning 7 miles from a bluff on the east side of the Missouri River to a bluff on the west side. Second the shoreline of the lake is longer than the total pacific shoreline of the state of California. Late in the evening Jennifer and I took the jeep out for a ride crossing the dam (impressive) and driving the back roads looking for grouse, pheasants and deer. We saw grouse and deer (mule and whitetail), but no pheasants. For those of you interested in earth science the Fort Peck area would be of real interest to you. Over the past 10 years 3 complete T-Rex skeletons have been found dating back about 60 million years. I looked for some bone on my walks with Marti and Emmy but found none. However, speaking of bone, Monday afternoon Jennifer and I went out to an ancient buffalo jump. A buffalo jump is a high bluff where the Indians drove buffalo over in order to kill them for food.
This particular jump has an archeological history of about 3,000 thousand years. This jump is out in the middle of no where with just a few signs to guide you to it out on the prairie. While I was kicking around the bottom of the jump I found several pieces of buffalo bone (these fragments could have been left before the birth of Christ) giving me a real sense of connection with these ancient people who were “trying to make a living” the only way they knew how.
We then turned south off of the Hi-Line at Wolf Point. Wolf Point got its name from a collection of wolves that early trappers left along the side of the river one very cold winter because the wolves froze before they could be skinned. The trappers intended to skin the wolves and sell the skins in the spring when they thawed. However, the local Indians found the wolves and would not let the trappers have them. It is said that by summer the folks on the river boats cold smell the rotting carcasses from miles away. This bend of the river has been known as Wolf Point ever since. The topography of the area is rolling hills providing great views as we crest them traveling south we have seen the largest wheat fields that I have ever seen between Wolf Point and Circle. We saw individual fields that were four to five miles square. Seeing these fields makes it easy to understand how American wheat feeds the world.
But Wait!! We have been making great progress the past two days and I had expectations of making South Dakota this evening before stopping and being back in Georgia either Sunday or Monday at the latest. Progress came to a sudden stop this afternoon about 2:00 as we started experiencing a jerky ride and the ”check transmission” light came on the motor home. After consulting the Coach Net folks a tow truck was summed and we are now setting in the parking lot of Interstate Truck Transmissions in Bismarck, North Dakota. Hopefully, we will be able to get into the shop early tomorrow and the problem will be minor. From all of the transmission fluid we lost I expect either a broken hose or blown gasket is the source of our troubles. Let’s hope that is all it is. We probably missed one of the best pictures of the trip as I had to connect the winch from my jeep to the motor home to help pull it off of the tow truck. I would like to get to Mitchell, South Dakota by tomorrow evening. Mitchell is seven hours away so we would need to get away from here by noon if we are to make it there. If we make Mitchell tomorrow and we have no more problems we should get to Ellijay by late Monday. You will have to look at the pictures of me in the coach loaded on the biggest tow truck I have ever seen. Let me tell you that made me pucker.
The best made plans of mice and men. Thursday afternoon (7/23) update. Well here I sit in a hotel room updating the blog. The transmission housing on the motor home has a hole in it and the part has to be air shipped here from somewhere. The service manager at the Allison transmission service center tells me that if the part arrives by noon they will have us going again by late tomorrow. If we are able to leave Bismarck by 4:00 then we will try to get to Mitchell, SD. If not, then we will spend an additional night here and leave early Saturday. It is a good thing that I had left 3 days in our schedule for unexpected problems. We are going to use all three on the transmission.
We started the day at 6:30 with a two to three mile walk on a quite farm road through a Montana wheat field. The sun was not too high which meant the temperature was still cool enough to enjoy the exercise. After we returned to the motor home we got cleaned up and went to church. We visited the Central Christian Church in Great Falls. The congregation was small and very friendly. Once they found out that we were on our way to Georgia from Alaska everyone wanted to hear about the trip and, of course, talk about Dr. Cradock and Cherry Log Church.
After the service we went to the Charles Russell Museum. Ah-Wah-Cous is the name the Indians gave Mr. Russell. I believe it means swift antelope given him because he had sewn a white leather on the seat of his pants to keep them from wearing out in the saddle. The patch reminded the Indians of the white patch on the rear of antelope. We toured Charlie and Nancy’s home, Charles’ studio and the art gallery. If you have any interest in western art this is a must do. Charlie Russell is my favorite western artist and this is the largest collection of Russell art. It took Jennifer and me nearly three hours to see all the paintings, sculptor, carvings and pieces in the gallery.
For those of you who are not familiar with Charlie Russell he was born in St. Louis to a well to do family in 1864. Fortunate for us Charlie did not take well to school, but he had a natural genius for painting. At the age of 16 he talked his mother and father in letting him accompany a family friend to Montana where he would spend the rest of his life. Charlie lived with a Mountain Man for a couple of years before he was able to get a job riding night heard on a cattle ranch. During this time Charlie would spend his spare time painting scenes of cowboy life, Indians and wildlife. Eventually Charlie would quit cowboying and become a full time artist. Russell and Remington are probably the deans of western art and we owe much of our impressions of the old west to these two men. Thank you Lord!!
As the song says when Charlie died God put him in charge of painting sunsets because no one could do them as well.
While we are here I spend my spare time looking at Montana real estate while Jennifer spends her spare time worrying about me looking at Montana real estate. This would not be a bad place to spend part of the year especially the fall, say early September until mid November.
This evening we are going to go walk along the river and see the “Great Falls” (look for pictures later).
Tomorrow morning I have a conference call then we are off to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive center and who know maybe look as some more real estate. J
Dateline Friday July 17, 2009 - 2147 miles is the distance from Tok, Alaska to Great Falls, Montana and that is the distance we have traveled since Monday July 13th. That may not seem like a lot miles to travel in five days, however, more than half of them (1320) were on the Alaskan Highway. It took us five days to just drive that going up. Road construction or more appropriately (road reconstruction) is in full swing. For the first three days we had several occasions where we had to wait for up to 45 minutes before being allowed to travel on down the road. While we had no problem with the road surface the dust was something else. There were times when meeting oncoming traffic that I could not see ten feet in front of the rig. I am convinced that anyone wanting a job that is willing to work in a harsh environment and stay in some remote places could find all of the work they want from Edmonton, Alberta to as far as the roads go in Alaska. The summers are just long enough for the crews to get last winters frost heaves leveled and long runs of freeze cracks, some extending for thirty or forty yards and a foot wide, filled in before winter starts all over again bringing with it next summers work. We stopped just short of Great Falls this afternoon about 4:00 Mountain Time to clean the Motor Home and do laundry. I spent four hours wiping down the inside of the coach while Jennifer did seven loads of laundry. I had to change the water I was using three times and each time I emptied about an eighth of a cup of grit that we had collected from all of the dust.
After reaching British Columbia, the slow travel did have one great reward associated with it. We were able to see more wildlife from the road than on any other portion of our trip. On the first day we saw eleven bears, more bison that we could count, a Stone sheep with a lamb, two moose, and some caribou. On the second day we saw more bears, more caribou, some really nice Stone sheep, more moose, and a fox. On the third day we crossed the border from British Columbia to Alberta and we saw a lot of water fowl and one coyote. And today we saw two elk in Alberta and several Antelope in Montana. Jennifer did manage to get some good pictures while we were in BC that we have posted to the blog.
For those of you that have been wondering why I have not posted an update to the blog or pictures, Internet service has been hard to find until today and in addition we were without cell phone signal from Tok until we reached Dawson Creek. In all honesty it probably would not have made much difference if we had been able to use our computer or phones as I was so tried at the end of each day after driving from ten to twelve hours that I just ate a quick dinner and went to bed. We plan to spend a few days in Great Falls resting going to the Charles Russell Gallery, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the Rocky Mountain Elk Society headquarters. I expect we will leave Great Falls on Tuesday morning for our final drive back to Georgia arriving either on Sunday or Monday.
As I am driving I keep trying to decide what I liked most about this trip. There certainly were highlights like getting to the Arctic Ocean and seeing the sun (at least sunshine on the mountain) at midnight during the summer solstice. Catching huge King Salmon and Halibut was fun as well as seeing massive brown bears and moose. Visiting with our friends Kim and Randy Cumming in Talkeetna, Alaska was worth the trip itself. But at the end of the day the thing that brings a smile to my face is having made the trip all the way from Ellijay, Georgia to Deadhorse, Alaska and back (one of the last great road journeys left in the world).
Where did I put the night light? Two nights ago we actually slept in the dark, that was the first time we had seen a dark night since we arrived in Ft. Nelson, British Colombia on June the 9th. If you are wondering, it does not take as long to get use to dark nights as it does to nights that do not get dark. Last night I woke up around 12:30 and saw a light shining under the door of the bath. It took me a few seconds to figure out that it was dark and that I was seeing the light from the nitelight. I wonder if it is getting dark at night in Alaska now?
The above warning was on the Alaskan Highway Department sign that greeted us as we turned off of Alaska Highway 1 onto Highway 5 on our way to Chicken. Chicken is a legendary gold camp on the Top of The World Highway between Tok, AK and Dawson City, Yukon Territory. According to my 2005 addition of Mile Post there were 37 permanent residences at Chicken. After being there, it is my belief that they counted dogs as well as people to get to 37. Chicken has three businesses, all sell gas, food and everything you could imagine with “Chicken" printed on it. If you have a mind to make your fortune panning gold you can pay $10 to pan all of the dirt you can in 24 hours. I did visit with one young lady that had been panning for a couple of days and had found some nice flakes that she was very proud of. I did not try my luck at panning for gold, but I did find a dime in the gravel road. I expect I made more money than most.
Of special note is the Chicken Saloon. The Chicken Saloon is a small bar and as I recall there were only 4 bar stools, a couple of folding chairs and a pool table. This is a dimly lit establishment with no windows, a limited selection of alcohol and a musty odor. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim light I could see what was making the strange smell. Pined, nailed, draped, taped and wedged to the ceiling, walls and ledges were hat, blouses, bras, panties, boots and who know what else that patrons have left with the date of their visit and their names. As you can guess many of the messages were very funny as well as graphic. No, Jennifer and I did not leave a token of our passing!
You may be wondering how Chicken got it name. It seems that the prospectors that discovered gold on what is now Chicken Creek wanted to name their strike after the Willow Ptarmigan that was so prevalent in the area, but when they went to write it down no one could spell ptarmigan. They could, however, spell Chicken. Those of you who know me well know how well I can relate to this story.
The drive to Chicken from Tok was the most colorful drive we have made since we have been here. This whole area, sixty miles long by I don’t know how wide burned a few years ago and all of the burned area is now covered with Fireweed. Fireweed gets it name not from the intense purple /red color, but from the fact that it is quick to spread across these burned areas. If you have not already you should check out the pictures we posted today. We also say three moose.
We will be leaving Alaska tomorrow on our way back to the lower 48 so I think it is only appropriate that I share with you some of the insights I now have about Alaskans after four weeks of observation. Here is my ten ways to tell a real Alaskan from a tourist.
This morning we turned south out of the Portage Glacier valley to begin the long drive home. I have to admit that I turned onto the pavement with a bit of melancholy knowing that we are on the back side of the middle of our trip. We stopped in Anchorage for a couple of hours to fuel up, grocery shop and pick up a pair of Beaver Skin Musher mittens that I had made while we were down on the Kenai fishing. The mittens turned out better than I had envisioned and I doubt that I get to wear them much once Christian sees them. Jennifer said the fur felt so good that she could just sit and pet them. I think they will feel really good during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race this next March.
We are spending the night just short of where the Glenn Highway intersects with the Richardson Highway. After leaving Anchorage we spent the rest of the day on the Glenn Highway traveling the Matanuska Valley. The road was challenging with an over abundance of frost heaves and gravel patches, however, we were compensated with spectacular views. At one point we had a great view of Matanuska Glacier I do not know how wide it is at that point, but would guess 3 to 5 miles across. We have experienced a lot of smoke for the past three days from wildfires across the state. The smoke made it impossible for us to see the back end of the glacier, even so I can tell you that it is huge. An awesome sight to see.
Tomorrow, Saturday, we will drive the 160 miles to Tok, you may remember that is where we spent our first night in Alaska as came up. The first order of business will be to wash the motor home and jeep so we can get in and out of them with out getting filthy. Then on Sunday we plan to take the jeep up the Top of the World Road to Chicken and back. This is almost 200 miles round trip. This will be the last side trip we will take until we cross Canada and get to Montana.
Monday we will start back down the Al-Can after I cover the windows and headlights of the jeep with insulation. Hopefully, this will prevent them from being broken out from the gravel (boulders) the big trucks throw up from their tires until we get past all of the road construction in the Yukon Territory and British Colombia. I will also need to cover the air intake with tape as it was clogged with rocks after our drive up from Whitehorse to Tok.
I believe this is just the fifth day since we have been in Alaska that we have not seen moose, in fact the only wildlife of note we saw today was the ubiquitous Bald Eagles.
This was in spite of the fact that we came down the side of Sheep Mountain which is noted for the abundance of Dall Sheep and Mountain Goat that inhibit its high environs.
One other interesting note for the day is that we had a thunder storm late this afternoon. This is the first rain we have seen since we left Coldfoot on June 21st. It is a bit strange as I sat and typed the blog this evening that this is the first time we have had to use our inside lights since entering Alaska – a sure sign that the Alaskan fall is only four weeks away. We have been blessed with great weather while we have been here. Maybe the rain will help put out some of the forest fires and take some of the smoke out of the air.
We have reached the most western point of our journey and tomorrow we will begin our journey home. If you are wondering how I know this is the most western point of our travels there is a sign that says so just a few miles down the road at Anchor Point. According to the sign the end of the road at Anchor Point is as far west as you can drive in North America. To go any farther a person would have to fly or boat. Just for the record J and I have now been to the most northern, the most westward and the most southern points of the US. I believe we will have to go to Maine to check off the most eastern point. Maybe next year.
I was surprised to discover that we are just over a thousand miles closer to Moscow than we are to Atlanta.
We have spent the majority of the past week either fishing, bear watching or dodging moose. We have made two Halibut trips out into Cook Inlet and several trips to the rivers that flow out of the Kenai Peninsula into the inlet. This morning we shipped 56 pounds of Halibut and Salmon back to Georgia. This afternoon we put up the fishing gear, readied the motor home for departure and tried to rest a little. We have been up most mornings between 4:00 and 4:30 to go fishing and to bed very late so we are both in bad need of a little rest. About the only activity we have not tried is digging for clams. I am certain we could collect as many as we would want based on the number of people we see cleaning them every afternoon. But, since J nor I do not know how to clean them or cook them other than in chowder we decided that we would just watch rather than participate. By the way, these clams are huge. I believe the average size is six inches long, 3.5 to 4 inches wide and two inches thick and would weigh in the neighborhood of a half pound each.
Yesterday we took time to visit a couple of the Old Russian settlements here on the Peninsula. The people there still wear traditional dress and their Russian Orthodox churches are still in the old world style. The church here at Ninilichik is over 100 years old.
Life here today revolves around fishing, but as recently as 60 years ago these small villages were sustained mostly by the fur trade. The oddities we have noticed most are the lack of lawn mowers. It is a rare (very rare) yard that gets mowed. The custom seems to be to clear a space large enough for a house and leave everything else as is. Most yards have shoulder high weeds growing right up to the house. If it were not for the fact that there are no snakes here I would be afraid to walk up to most of them because it is like wading through a shoulder high jungle. Another curiosity is that most houses appear to be in a non-finished state. I have not kept count, but it would not surprise me to find that 50% of the houses here are not finished. The other thing I have noticed is that these people get by with a lot less than what we consider necessary in the lower 48 and they are not bothered much about the politics that keep most of us down south up at night.
For those of you who know Jennifer and I well, I will either relieve or disappoint you as we have decided that while this is a great land that we both have enjoyed, neither of us would want to move up here. Life here would be too harsh to start at 60 +. Montana is still the land of our dreams and most likely always will be.
We left Talkeetna, Alaska Monday on our way to Ninilchik on the Kenai Peninsula. Monday's travel included a brief stop in Anchorage for some shopping then on down to Portage where we spent the night not far from the Portage Glacier.
Tuesday morning found us up early for a walk to a near by lake for a little fishing then a visit to the Portage Glacier visitors center. We found the visitor’s center informative and the staff very helpful. After taking a few pictures of huge hunks of ice floating in the lake at the foot of the glacier we traveled down the Seward Highway to the junction of the Sterling highway and the last leg of our journey to Ninilchik.
As I have previously stated Alaska is a wonderful place. The Arctic region inspires you with the vastness of the wilderness then there is the interior with Mt. McKinley and the Denali National Park. Mt McKinley is by far the most awe inspiring site I have ever seen. McKinley is enormous, it is so big that even from 75 miles away it looks as if you could just reach out and touch it. We found the best place to see the mountain was Talkeetna a quaint village about 140 miles north of Anchorage. Talkeetna is my favorite Alaskan town so far. I suspect there are around 300 year around residences who call the area their home. Main Street is about 150 yards long and the road ends at the end of town at the river. The glacier fed river was very cold - between 40 and 50 degrees so you can imagine my surprise when I saw a couple of teenagers swimming in it. I ask them if it was cold and the response was, “the coldest water I have ever been in”. I would have not even taken my boot off and waded in it. I did not know whether is should applaud their toughness or marvel at their stupidity. I left them wondering if I would have been out there if I were 45 years younger.
We had several good visits with our friends Randy and Kim Cummings. You may remember that Randy gave up his medical practice in the lower 48 to come to Alaska and become a musher. Randy and Kim now own and operate Husky Town Dog Sled Rides. Randy took Jennifer and me on a Dog Team ride one afternoon. I am still amazed at the power of the dogs as they were pulling a couple of thousand pounds with relative ease.
The Kenai is a fishing paradise so much so that if there were another word for fishing I believe you would spell it “Kenai”. The best I can tell there are three kinds of people here, those that only have enough money to fish the rivers from the bank or wading, those that can afford to fish the bigger rivers from a small boat and finally those with enough money to afford to fish the ocean from a BIG boat. Jennifer and I went on a charter fishing trip this morning for Halibut. We rode out for about an hour to the area we were going to fish. The water there was something over 100 ft deep. We used short stiff rods with heavy line on the reels and two pound lead weights to get the baits down.
After our hooks were baited with pieces of herring we were instructed to let the weight fall to the bottom. There were so many fish that out baits seldom reached the bottom before we had a fish on. Have you ever reeled up a 10 to 15 pound fish from 100 feet plus. The limit is two so we did a lot of catch and release trying to just keep the two biggest fish we caught. I boated eight and Jennifer boated seven before our time over the fishing grounds was over. The fillets from our four fish weighted 30 pounds. We took all but four pounds to the processor to have it vacuum packed and shipped back to Atlanta. We are having fresh Halibut for dinner tonight and there will be enough for at least two more meals from the fish we brought back to the motor home.
This afternoon was spent napping as we had to get up before four this morning to take care of Marti and Emmy and get to the docks for a 5:45 AM cast off. Tomorrow Jennifer is going to fly over to the Katmai area to go bear watching and I am going fishing in the Anchor River for Dolly Varden & Rainbow trout and Arctic Char. On Sunday Jennifer is going on a Salmon and bear watching float trip while I go fish the Kenai and Russian Rivers. Monday will be a rest day and then back to Homer for one final ocean charter for Halibut on Tuesday. We plan to spend the remainder of the week visiting the parks, museums as many glaciers in the area as well as the other attractions on the peninsula. The many mountains and valleys offer excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. In fact, we saw a nice black bear yesterday crossing the highway not far from where we have the motor home set up.
We met some very interesting folks this morning who live here six to seven months each year and in the lower 48 the remainder of the year. Two retired school teachers both in their seventies and looking younger than I do stay here all summer to fish and leave in October to get to warmer weather and closer to their families. They both invited me to go trout fishing with them giving me their names and phone numbers. Everyone here is friendly wanting to hear where we are from and what we are doing in Alaska. On a couple of occasions I have been out working on the motor home and had to stop to answer questions about our travels, where we are from, how many children we have and to let everyone who sees them pet Marti and Emmy. Of course, Emmy loves it and Marti doesn’t.
I bet many of you are wondering if we have seen any eagles out here by the ocean. The answer is YES, more than I have ever seen anywhere. Just on the short 30 mile drive from here Homer we have been seeing 8 to 10.
Oh! The amount of daylight is decreasing. I was up last night at 2:00 AM and for the first time since we have been here it was almost dark. I expect that by the time we leave at the end of the month there will actually be an hour of darkness each night as the daylight decreases by six minutes each day now as the Sun begins it journey south and the north begins it journey into 24 hours of sunless days.
Cantwell is no more than a wide spot on the Alaskan Railroad tracks. There is a railroad maintenance yard and by the number of RVs in the back it looks like it is manned mostly by temporary workers staying in Cantwell for only some short period of time. From Jennifer’s and my tour of the village (which may have taken 10 minutes) there appeared to be 10 occupied houses along with several camps. There was the Blue House Bed and Breakfast, you can guess how it got it name, and what appeared to be a dog musher as there was a large kennel with what I guessed to be 50 to 60 dogs. I found two things in Cantwell that I thought typified outback . The first was the smallness of the dwellings. I counted three sheets of 4x8 plywood down the sides and two across the front of most of them, so that would make them 12x8. They seemed to all be 2 storeys so I expect that is to conserve heat as hot air rises. The other was the words in the heading of this blog on a hand lettered sign on what appeared to be the main street of Cantwell. After further inspection I discovered that one of the residences of Cantwell owned a flying service offering sightseeing trips around McKinley, fly in fishing, hunting and camping trips. When not in use, he kept his airplane in a large metal building next to his house. I know this because when I drove up into his yard I could see the airplane. Now the airstrip was down the road across the railroad tracks so when he needed to get from the garage in his yard to the airstrip or back he just taxied the plane down Main Street...Speed Limit 35…Beware of Airplane. Only in Alaska!
Today Jennifer and I drove about 50 miles of the old Denali Highway. This is 135 miles of gravel between Cantwell and Paxton, Alaska. The road is rough, so rough that even in the jeep I could only travel at 20 MPH so the trip out and back took about 5 hours. The road follows the Nenana and Susitna River valleys and is a great ride. We had views of the valleys that I am certain were 50+ miles across with nothing before us but wilderness. We drove the jeep to the top of a small rise to have our picnic lunch and could see West Fork and Susitna Glaciers from our location. I liked this drive because we seemed to be the only non-Alaskans on the road. We saw several trucks pulling trailers with ATVs. Those of you who know me know that I would fit in very well with this crowd. In addition to an ATV one trailer had two 140 horse outboard motors. Later we saw the rig parked in an abandoned gravel pit with the ATVs and boat motors gone. I could only speculate that the guys in the truck were pulling the motors into a remote lake where they already had boats.
We did not see much in the way of animal life other than a couple of arctic hare and two bald eagles. I suppose it just was not our day because when we got out of the jeep and went walking we could see moose and caribou tracks everywhere.
On the way back I did stop to fly fish in some small unnamed creek where I caught three grayling, however, they were small so I pitched them back and we had left over hamburgers for dinner instead of the fish we had anticipated having.
Tomorrow morning we leave for Talkeetna for a few days with our friends Randy and Kim.
Prudhoe Bay, - this is the end of the road
Explorers, adventures, gold seekers came.
All seeking fame and fortune – the mother load.
They finally found deep in the ground black gold
That is why they built the Dalton road.
The Haul Road, Dalton Highway the Killer road to the north
We have all come to give it a try to see what our metal is worth
The road to Deadhorse is an epic journey made by only a few.
There are adventurers, ice-road haulers and those with nothing to do.
Some came to look and stayed a lifetime, others their lives they gave
To see what was on the north slope of the mighty Brooks Range
Where the musk ox and the caribou graze, and
the wolfs and bears look for prey.
It’s 416 miles from the bottom to the top, Coldfoot, Wiseman
The mighty Brooks, the tundra, Deadhorse – .
It is the midnight sun or the northern lights, it is cold either way.
The summer days are 40 above the winter 40 below.
If you come it is not gold you will find, but memories you will take away
Of the far north land that is so grand and the folks and critters along the way.
“The same, some say, is one who’s seen the ice go out,
But most profound authorities the definition doubt.
And to the genial notion of this meeting, Major Brown,
A Sourdough is a guy who drinks….an ice-worm cocktail down”
Although we are only a stones throw from Ice-worm Gulch I have not been able to locate one ice-worm for a cocktail so I expect we will leave Alaska as we came, Cheechako’s (a pilgrim), rather than Sourdough’s (toughened to the Alaska world). Jennifer is okay with that as she does not like to drink hard liquor so she was not looking forward to having an ice-worm cocktail.
It took me over a half day to get all of the mud off that covered my jeep after the Dalton Road trip then another half day to make all the repairs needed to start out on the road again. While none of the repairs were major, I did have to take one of the rear tires off to get to some of the bolts that had shaken loose by the bumps on the Dalton Haul Road. That said, it was still not as rough as I expected.
Yesterday we road one of the buses that take folks into Denali National Park. Private vehicles can only go as far as mile 15 and from that point on it is by foot or park provided bus. We took the 6.5 hour tour to the Tolkat River. If you have been on a school bus for 6.5 hours recently you know why we did not take one of the longer rides. The bus system in the park is very accommodating letting you off and picking you up anywhere you want along the road. In fact, hiking in the park is highly encouraged, but since Marti and Emmy were back in the motor home, we felt we could not stay away long enough to do any hiking. We plan to drive down the Denali Highway sometime in the next couple of days for some fishing and hiking. We can take the dogs with us there and have the freedom to stay all day (remember that it never gets dark here). Jennifer and I are reminded of this every evening around midnight as we fall into bed after another 18 hour day of “doing Alaska”.
We were very fortunate as the skies were clear allowing us to see Mt. McKinley. This is a rarity here this time of year as it is cloudy most of the time. The odds are 80/20 against seeing the mountian. Jennifer got some great pictures of the 20,000+ ft. mountain. We also saw a wide variety of wildlife. The count was one wolf, three sheep, 20+ Caribou, six grizzly bears, two golden eagles and numerous arctic hare and ground squirrels. Of course, it is the bears that interest me the most. We saw two different sows with cubs, one set of cubs appeared to be about a year and a half old and the other set about 6 months old. These are magnificent animals that I could watch for hours. We have a good chance of seeing more bears along the Denali Highway and of course we will see brown bears down on the coast.
I talked to our friends two days ago that went on down to the Kenai to fish. They had good luck boating Halibut. Their catch netted ~45 lbs of fillets to take home. I hope Jennifer and I can do as well.
PS: If you are wondering what the difference is between ice-worms and grizzly bears is: it is who does the swallowing.
We are camped (6/11) along the side of about 240 KM south of the Alaskan border. We will cross the line today. It has been a harder journey than I anticipated, driving most days from early to late, but we are almost there!
Whitehorse, Yukon, was the largest town we have come through since leaving . We enjoyed the Old Log church Museum that told the life stories of many Anglican missionaries to this region. Their lives were surely hard. One example of how tough it was for them is that one young missionary got lost and ate his boots to stay alive.
We also enjoyed the where we saw fine examples of Indian crafts such as moccasins, moose and caribou coats with elegant bead work and ceremonial masks made from wood. There were four large totem poles representing the clans of the area – beaver, wolf, crow and eagle. We also enjoyed the tour of the boat house with an outstanding example of a dug out canoe that would hold seventeen men.
Cottonwood Campground is located on the Kluane Lake. The lake is interesting because we saw a cove completely filled with ice about a mile before we reached the campground. The water is so clear you could sink a newspaper to the bottom and be able to read it from the surface. Oh, and did we say the campground is remote. It is so remote that the proprietors have to generate their own electricity. But keep up with the times, there is excellent internet service. We were able to do email and post our blog.
Last evening after dinner, we went for a walk. Although it was nearly 10 p.m., the sun was shining brightly. In fact, it never got “dark” all night long. While on our walk, along a trail next to the highway, a van passed us headed north. A couple minutes later it had turned around and stopped along next to us. Jennifer and I guessed they had missed the entrance to the campground or had a question for us. However, that was not the case. They had come back to warn us that there was a grizzly bear on the trail up ahead of us coming our way and that we needed to turn around and go back – IN A HURRY! As you can tell from this posting, we out ran the grizzly.
Our next posting will be from Alaska, the great land.
We left Thursday about 9:30 a.m. headed for the Dalton Haul Road (DHR).
The Haul Road starts about 100 miles north of Fairbanks. The road leading up to the DHR is paved, wide and easy to travel. The DHR is neither paved, wide, or easy to travel. However, it is not nearly as bad as we were led to believe or anticipated. There are many stretches of pavement and in most cases the gravel road bed is smooth and easy to drive on. Just watch out for those TRUCKS – they are big, they drive fast and they sling a lot of rocks!
The pipeline is your constant companion once you leave the pavement headed north. It snakes along the highway like a 416 mile serpent. It is neither straight nor all above ground. The pipeline was built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion when the hot crude oil began flowing through it. It actually expanded 4’ per 100 miles when put into production. It is not as big in diameter as we had imagined knowing that 20% of all oil that we use in the US flows through the pipe from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Just last month a project was approved to construct a second pipeline parallel to this one to carry natural gas from Prudhoe Bay to the lower 48. It is certain that the construction of the new pipeline will create another economic boom for the people who live along the DHR.
We made it to the Arctic Circle around 3:00 in the afternoon. We stopped, took pictures, celebrated getting there and said good-bye to our friends the Cheathams who had been travelling with us and were now leaving us and heading out on their own and looking forward to a visit with their grandchildren.
We finished the day by driving the 120 miles to Coldfoot, filling the jeep with gas, eating dinner, and visiting the vistors center. We then drove 13 miles further north to Wiseman to the Arctic Getaway Cabin Bed and Breakfast where we would be spent two nights.
Wiseman is an old gold mining settlement originally constructed by gold miners about 1900. At one time Wiseman had several hundred mighty souls mining for gold in and around the area. Even as late as the 1930’s there were still over a hundred individuals in the area – today there are 13 permanent residents. Bernie and Uta Hicker, owners of the Arctic Getaway Cabins (www.arcticgetaway.com) came here from Germany. Bernie has been here about 30 years and Uta about 17. They live in Wiseman year round with their 11 year old daughter and 8 year old son. They hunt moose, caribou and sheep, fish for char and grayling and operate their cabin & breakfast business. Both children are home schooled by Uta. By our standards, they live a hard life. However, you can tell they are very happy and content wanting nothing more than safety, health and the freedom of the life they chose.
Friday morning at 6:00 we got up and took Marti and Emmy out to the gravel bar on the Koyukuk River. The gravel bar was wonderful because we could let the dogs off the leash and they could run at will and the wind blew “most” of the mosquitoes away. Let us tell you about the mosquitoes. They are everywhere by the millions! If you open your mouth without a bug net on your head, you will eat several. If you step out of the jeep you are instantly covered and if the jeep door is left open for the briefest of time, the jeep is full of them. Thank heaven for Thermocells! These little devices are the best protection we have found. Jennifer’s attire now consists of boots, jeans, long sleeve shirt, jumper, gloves, bug hat and Thermocell which she refuses to go anywhere without all of these items. I on the other hand just mostly grin and bear it and consider it part of the experience.
Later in the morning we drove back south to the where we spent most of the day fishing. We fished for about three hours with no success. Around noon I switched from a spinning rod and casting baits to a fly rod and a small white and brown dry fly. Immediately I began to catch fish and had caught a limit of 5 arctic graylings in a very short time. We had a picnic lunch on the bank of the river, cleaned our fish and drove to Gobblers Knob. Gobblers Knob is high alpine tundra. We were able to get out of the jeep and hike for several hours again letting the dogs run free. It didn’t take long for them to find willow ptarmigan and Jennifer got several pictures of classic points. I could only dream of having my shotgun as the season does not open until the first of August. It was great fun, we all got some needed exercise and the views were spectacular.
On the way back to Wiseman Jennifer spotted a very nice bull moose standing in Grayling Lake. We stopped back in Coldfoot for dinner, gas and then back to Wiseman to the Arctic Getaway for the night.
Saturday morning found us up early and back on the gravel bar with Emmy and Marti, breakfast of eggs and toast and heading north to Deadhorse. Once we cleared the Brooks Range, we left all of the boreal forests behind and travelled the rest of the 150 miles to Deadehorse across a surreal landscape of arctic tundra that stretched as far as the eye could see. I imagine that it was much like the grand prairies and high plains of the lower 48 when the pioneers first travelled west on the Oregon Trail – an endless sea of green broken only by rivers and outcroppings of rocks for thousands of miles, north, east or west.
We arrived in Deadhorse about 4:00 in the afternoon just in time to get our room at the Arctic Caribou Inn, stow our gear and join our guided tour of Prudhoe Bay and our chance to get to the Arctic Ocean.
We were told that the area is an oil producing work camp with no permanent residents. Everyone is flown in for their two or three week shifts. They live in barracks made from trailers, their meals are furnished and they work 12 hour days everyday until they fly out again at the end of their work schedule.
For the adventurer like Jennifer and I the accommodations OK, but sparse. We lodged in the same facilities as the workers and had our meals with the workers. There is one gas station, one post office, one auto parts store and one general store. The general store sells no groceries, only snack food, t-shirts with clever sayings about Deadhorse, thermal underwear and carhartt workclothes. After dinner we drove back out on the tundra where we took pictures of hundreds of caribou, muskox, tundra swan and other creatures of the northern latitudes.
Sunday – Father’s Day and summer solstice. We rose early to 32 degrees, ice fog and a wind chill of 18 degrees. We filled our tank with gas and started out on the 7 hour, 240 mile journey back to Wiseman. It was cloudy, light rain and cold. We didn’t stop until we reached the Brooks Range and high mountain tundra. There we stopped and let Marti and Emmy run for an hour before loading up and completing the journey to Wiseman.
I had wanted to get a picture of the sun at midnight so Jennifer and I took a nap until about 7 PM, got up and went back into Coldfoot for dinner and did time killing activities for the next three hours waiting for midnight. I was greatly disappointed because it was cloudy and raining. While there was plenty of light, the sun was not visible. I had to settle for a picture of the far mountains with the sun shining on them. We returned to the Arctic Getaway about 12:30 and hit the sack!! I woke up at 2 a.m. and looked out the window at clear blue skies and sunshine. I let out a deep sigh and went back to bed.
Monday morning – we slept until 7 AM and then back to the gravel bar before heading back to Fairbanks. Jennifer has been a great trooper taking everything in, taking hundreds of pictures, putting up with the mosquitoes, cold, rain and living out of the jeep for five days with me and the dogs. We will all be happy to get back to Fairbanks , remove the layers of mud, spread out a bit and head down to Denali on Wednesday.
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God’s sake go and do it; hear the challenge, learn the lesson, Pay the Cost.
We arrived in Fairbanks on Saturday the weather had been rainy and cool all day until about thirty minutes before we arrived when it cleared, the sun came out and warmed up a little. It was a good thing too because the Motor home and the jeep were in bad need of ANOTHER washing. That is what we did first even before we set up in our campsite. After washing the rigs we set up had dinner and went to bed.
Mornings come early in the Fox house as Emmy and Marti are anxious to get out and go for a walk. Most mornings we are up between 5:30 and 6:00 and try to walk 2 to 3 miles. That is very easy to do here because it never gets dark. The sun is visible for 21 hours and 45 minutes right now but it never gets dark! The other interesting thing I discovered is that the sun sets and comes up almost at the same place. I am guessing there is only about 20 degrees difference in the location of sunset and sunrise. It makes sense when you think about it, but it was a real discovery to me when I noticed it. “He was overly pleased with his discovery of the obvious.”
Sunday was spent making repairs from the long drive. We had two broken lights on the jeep, a broken closet door lock, the leveling jacks needed attention, a gasket on one of the slides need to be glued back in place and the list went on and on it took all day.
About mid morning I needed to get some supplies and Jennifer wanted to shop for some groceries so we headed off to Wal-Mart, yes they have Wal-Marts in Alaska. While there I had a truly Alaskan experience. I was walking out of the store with my purchases when I looked up at the couple walking out the door in from of me. To my amazement the man in front of me was pushing a Wal-mart buggy filled with sacks (nothing special about that) but on his right side was a six-shooter, I guessed either a .444 or 500 Smith in a holster with about 20 rounds of ammunition in the gun belt. No one other than me even gave it a second look. I Love This Place!!!!
Monday we went to the University of Alaska where we enjoyed the Museum of the North, the large animal research station (Musk ox and Caribou) and a very helpful and funny policeman who helped us find our way as it was obvious we were lost and only chastised me a little for turing right from the wrong lane in front of another vehicle (thanks to him being nice, a savings of $85). Oh, lest if forget I did slip in a little fishing Monday morning and caught an Arctic Grayling, a very handsome fish.
Tuesday we went to Angle Rocks. Angle Rocks is an area about 40 miles north of where you can hike to the top of a Glacier Moraine and see forever. The hike was only about 3.5 miles; however, we had to climb almost 1000 feet. We took apples, cheese and other snacks for out lunch which we enjoyed on the top looking out over millions of acres of wild Alaska. On the way up we saw a porcupine. I have seen them before in the lower 48 while bird hunting this one was not much different other than it was about twice as big. On the way down we saw another one it must have been the Boss of the mountain because it was Huge. If there is a porcupine world record he would have been eligible …It was trophy size. I guessed that it would weigh 40 to 50 pounds Jennifer guessed 50 to 60.
On the way back to the RV we saw 6 moose 5 of them were very cooperative giving us great opportunities to photograph them while they munched grass. The sixth one almost ran over us running out into the road just as we were almost even with it. If I had been traveling at my normal speed I would have had it on top of my jeep as it turned out I was able to lock the breaks and missed it by about 10 feet.
Today Jennifer is going exploring. She is headed for “ The North Pole” to visit the shops. I am heading north about 40 miles for some fishing. I am hoping that dinner tonight will be Arctic Char and Grayling.
Speaking of shopping I bought a knife on Monday. It is a custom made knife with mammoth tooth handles and a Damascus steel blade. Check it out at www.markknappcustomknives.com.
Latter today we will pack the jeep for the journey to the Arctic Ocean. We will head up early tomorrow morning (416 miles up all gravel roads). The next two nights we will be in Arctic Getaway -Igloo #8 at Wiseman an old gold mining camp and then Arctic Caribou Inn -Deadhorse on the 20th. There we will also take the tour up to to dip our toes in the COLD waters. And back to Wiseman on the 21st for the summer solstice all of this is inside the arctic circle. Pray for clear skies at midnight so we can get a picture of the sun.
Lord, I'm 4,000 miles away from home. We have arrived in Fairbanks this afternoon after a stop in the North Pole. We left the Cottonwood RV Park, Yukon Territory, about 9:30 a.m. yesterday for what was supposed to be a fairly easy drive to Tok, AK. Seven hours, a lot of gravel, a cracked windshield, more dust than you can imagine, we arrived at the Alaska border (12 days, 3 hours and 4,151 miles from Ellijay).
We stopped at the border to celebrate, take pictures and congratulate ourselves on making this much of the journey and having just 200 miles to Fairbanks.
Crossing back in to the U.S. from Canada was not as "non-eventful" as we thought it would be as we had to go into the border office to have them look at our passports, vehicle registration and answer a whole lot of questions. After we "correctly" answered all the questions, we were thanked, welcomed to Alaska, told to have a good time and released to go on our way.
Tok, Alaska is not a very large place - only about 1400 residences. From what we could tell, the major industry revolves around RV's. Every other business is either a fuel station, a RV repair shop or a campground catering to all the people who have travelled the Alaskan highway.
We spent last night at the Tok Sourdough Campground. We had reindeer chili and chicken potato chowder served in sourdough bread bowls. The chili and chowder were both good and if you wanted coffee or water, it was free and you served yourself. Sodas were in a machine for purchase. Dinner had to be reserved and prepaid. After dinner a pancake toss contest was held. Each camper was given two opportunities and two pancakes to try and get a pancake in a bucket about 15' away. Every successful toss earned a free reindeer sausage and soudough pancake breakfast. Those who were not successful had the priviledge of paying $12 for the same breakfast (like us!).
We had seen a lot of wildlife warning signs along the highway from Tok to Fairbanks telling us to be on the watch for caribou, moose, buffalo and other critters but the only thing we have seen has been the sky and highway as we are navigating the frost heaves in the highway we are either looking straight up or straight down.
We are all looking forward to parking the RV for more than one nigt, doing some fishing, sightseeing, learning about local culture and taking care of some much needed repairs.
In Fort Nelson, British Columbia, we joined the great pilgrimage to Alaska. We spent the night at the West End Campground where we saw every imaginable form of camping enterprising individual "going to Alaska" one could dream up. There were $500,000 motor homes, 5th wheels, standard towable trailers, pop-up camper, tents, people sleeping under blue tarps and people sleeping in their trucks. One fellow from California with some kind of Mersedes Benz with a camper on it entertained us by demolishing a car to get it out of the way of his camping spot. This fellow actually drove over the car three times. Jennifer captured this on video! These RV'ers are a friendly lot as you cannot stand still without a group of them coming up to talk to you...."we are going to Alaska".
The drive between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake has been the most interesting drive of our trip. We drove through the Canadian rockies passage crossing the highest point on the Alaska Highway. The scenery was spectacular and we saw a lot of wildlife. Shortly after leaving Fort Nelson we saw our first bear. It was a medium sized black bear eating grass along the highway. Later on we had to stop for a young bull moose down on its knees licking salt from a pothole in the middle of the road. Jennifer took great pictures of him. Next we came upon a mother black bear with two small furry cubs. They too were busy licking salt from the highway.
After crossing the Laird River, we began to see and smell smoke. There was a large forest fire that had burned over a hundred miles and was still burning. We passed one firefighter camp and saw many firefighters working along side of the road. While we were able to pass freely through the burn area, we learned that earlier in the day travellers were being stopped and escorted through the smoke covered highway.
Watson Lake is a very small place made famous by thousands of signs that travellers post in the Watson Lake Sign Forest, noting their hometowns and the distance between Watson Lake and home. We spent a couple of hours reading signs, looking at the creative signs and finding the perfect spot to post our "Ellijay, GA, - 3,349 miles - Apple Capital of Georgia" sign.
Today (6-10) we made our drive to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon. We went through a few showers, some muddy road construction which deemed it impossible to determine the color of our jeep and also provided us with a broken fog light on the jeep. We arrived in Whitehorse to find that the campground we had selected was full so on to "plan B" campground which looks like rows of canned sardines! Before going to our spot in the can we did wash the RV and the jeep so we are recognizable again. No wildlife today! We plan to go into town later and check out the area.
At midnight last night when Jennifer came back to the RV from doing laundry and posting pictures to the blog it was still bright daylight. I think we are only having about 2-3 hours of "darkness".
We have completed our long trek across the North American high plains and grand prairies. In the last several days we crossed vast expanses of farm land. Mostly wheat, corn, some hay and cattle. Last night (6-6) we over nighted in the Lions Club RV Park, Whitecourt, Alberta. It was a nice RV park with lots of trees. However recent rains and the lack of gravel made walking around a bit challenging. Temperature this morning was 43 degrees requiring us to run the furnace so it would be warm enough to crawl out of bed!
During the night there was a brief period of either sleet or rain and two nights ago Whitecourt had gotten 2" of snow although there is no evidence of any of it today.
This morning we are driving to Dawson Creek, British Columbia - Mile 0 of the ALCAN (Alaska-Canadian Highway) and we have driven almost 3,000 miles to get here! Dawson Creek is the staging for the push into Alaska and onto Fairbanks - a journey of about 1,200 miles. We entered the great boreal forest so we have high expectations for seeing wildlife from this point on.
We arrived in Dawson Creek about mid-afternoon, parked the RV and went for a walk-about in town. Pictures were made at Mile 0 and took some interesting pictures of murials painted on old buildings around town, some of which we are posting (hopefully!).
There were some interesting old photographs of Dawson Creek during the construction of the ALCAN including what was left of the town after 60,000 cases of dynamite accidently exploded.
Tomorrow we are off to Fort Nelson.
Genesis 1:14 On the fourth day God made two great lights the greater light to goveren the day and the lessor light to goveren the night. He also made the stars.
The bible teaches that on the fourth day God created the sun, moon and stars and there was evening and morning. On the fourth day of our journey we crossed the border into Canada. While is was not present to witness God's creation of night and day, i believe that between getting into Canada and creating the sun, moon and stars God had the easier task.
We left Ellijay, Ga on Monday around noon and traveled to Mt. Vernon, Il. On Tuesday we continued northwest to Platte City, Mo. Wednesday we turned due north and spent the night in Brookings, SD. Thursday we continued north through North Dakota and crossed the Canadian border about 60 miles south of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Our experience to this point has been relatively uneventful. We have seen a few deer, ducks, 5 pelicans, one pheasant, geese and i am sure several hundered dead raccoons. I believe raccoons have been taking road crossing lessons from armadillos.
Today we took a short three mile detour to cross the Red River and have lunch in Minnesota at the Blue Moose. I am pertty sure the establishment got its name from the bigger than life blue moose in fornt of the parking lot.
There has been a steady 15 -20 MPH wind blowing out of the west today and, of course, I am traveling north so my left arm is beginning to cramp from pulling on the steering wheel trying to keep the RV between the ditches. More than a few of the wind gust made me think that I was going to become airborne. Then there has been the road construction. I suggest that any of you that plan to take a trip to the northwest US, Canada or to Alaska by road plan your trip for next year. Based in our expierence so far I am certian that all of the roads will be brand new by then.
We dry camped Wednesday night in Brookings, SD at the local Wal-Mart. We were up and about at 5:30 am to walk the dogs. I guessed that parking lot was about .75 to 1.0 miles around the perimeter. The sun was already up, however, it was a very cool 43 degrees. Before we had made our first circle around the Wal-Mart we Emy and Marti had found numerous birds, three rabits and a Dr. Pepper truck. I believe their performance is an very good indication of the superior training.
Clearing Canadian Customs took us 2 hours including pulling a 38 ft. motorhome into a sardine sized garage then having to disconnect the jeep and back motorhome out. It took 4 Canadian border patroll officers and 1 search dog and two hours to get us out. Everyone was very nice and extremely polite in their search for guns, drugs and who knows what else.
For those of you who are looking for more updates to the blog Internet access (oops just saw a BIG jackrabbit) has been more difficult to fine than I had imagined. I am pounding this in at 12 mps.
We are spending the night at WelcomeStop Campground outside of Winnepeg and tomorrow heading for Saskatoon.
Several years ago Tom T. Hall recorded a song titled "Old Friends". The song was a melencoly tribute to frindships.
Today as Jennifer and I began our journey to Alaska this song came to mind. We were at the Motorhome making last minute preprations when many of our friends starting driving up. They were coming to see us off. Some brought homemade bread and cream cheese, others brought Mimosas and we visited takled about the adventure ahead had a toast for good luck and a save journey and Connie Arnold offically christined the motorcoach "North to Alaska". Old Friends
We drove about 400 miles after a slow start. The crancking batteries on the RV were low i suppose we would not have been able to leave for several hours if we had to wait for the batteries to charge, but Frank Osborne took matters in his own hands went to a truck repair shop and got a battery booster unit. We connected the booster to the RV applied 200 amps of cranking power and we were off. Old Friends
All of this got me to thinking about the pioneers who settled this country we are crossing 150 years ago. I expect many of them were just like Jennifer and I, out for adventure, some were looking for a new start, others for a better life. I expect they started with only their most valued possesions. After all how much would a wagon carry? They probably had a cow if they owned one maybe a few chickens, some seed and tools i expect that was about it. They probably sepne more than a month getting as far as i drove today. I wonder how many of them turned back, how many are burried along the way between here and where they started? I expect that i do not have much in common with those eary settlers with the exception of one thing....Old Friends. I bet their neighbors, brothers, sisters many of the folk they knew came to see them off, to wish them a safe journey and blessings on their new life. Old Friends.
Today Jennifer and i met a couple of old friends in Platte City Missouri. Genger and Eddie started yesterday from Crossett Arkansas. We arrived here about 15 minutes apart. Genger and Eddie are going to trek with us to Fairbanks, Alaska before they head out on their own when Jennifer and i head up the Haul Road. We have known the Cheathams thirty plus years. I remember when both of their children were born they watched Christian grow into a young adult and leave for college. We will spend the next 10 days together sharing places, sights and things none of us have ever seen before.
Old Friends...this journey will be special!
Some philosapher said that the longest journey begins with one step. That is true, of course, but I believe Great Journeys begin long before the first step is ever taken. Great Journeys, begin in the mind as a dream, a thought that incabates over time until it takes shape and finally initiates action. For me, this journey began over 50 years ago in the pages of Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield. Writers like Jack O'Connor, Russell Annabel and adventures who loved to hunt with bow and arrow like Fred Bear, Glenn St. Charles and Jay Massey. Explores like Bird, Franklin and Roald Amundsen had their impact on me as well. And, one of my favorite writers Robert Service. If you visit this site often you will become very familiar with Rober Service.
Ever since i have remembered i have dreamed of spending time in Alaska, of seeing the land of the Midnight Sun, of experiencing the vastness of the Great Land and the people who inhabit it. I want to meet Claw Fingered Kate and Sam McGee. I want to find the Black Fox Skin and spend the night on the Marge of Lake LaBarge and see the midnight sun.
And so, while this may not be the journey you have dreamed of I invite you to come along with Jennifer, Marti, Emy and I to the "Great Land" and discover with us;
The strange things done in the midnight sun
by the men who moil for gold.
To Discover the arctic trails and their secret tales
that will make your blood run cold.
Spend the night on the Marge of Lake LaBarage
and find the site of the cremation of Sam McGee.
We are so excited for you and your RV trip to Alaska. We look forward to seeing your pics and reading about the experience.
Hugh & Fran
We are camped along the side of Kluane Lake about 240 KM south of Tok, AK. We will cross the line today. It has been a harder journey than I anticipated, driving most days from early to late, but we are almost there!
Whitehorse was the largest town we have come through since leaving . We enjoyed the Old Log church Museum that told the life stories of many Anglican missionaries to this region. Their lives were surely hard. One example of how tough it was for them is that one young missionary got lost and ate his boots to stay alive.
We also enjoyed the Tlingit Heritage Center where we saw fine examples of Indian crafts such as moccasins, moose and caribou coats with elegant bead work and ceremonial masks made from wood. There were four large totem poles representing the clans of the area – beaver, wolf, crow and eagle. We also enjoyed the tour of the boat house with an outstanding example of a dug out canoe that would hold seventeen men.
Cottonwood Campground is located on the Kluane. The lake is interesting because we saw a bay completely filled with ice about a mile before we reached the campground. The water is so clear you could sink a newspaper to the bottom and be able to read it from the surface. Oh, and did we say the campground is remote. It is so remote that the proprietors have to generate their own electricity. But keep up with the times, there is excellent internet service. We were able to do email and post our blog.
Last evening after dinner, we went for a walk. Although it was nearly 10 p.m., the sun was shining brightly. In fact, it never got “dark” all night long. While on our walk, along a trail next to the highway, a van passed us headed north. A couple minutes later it had turned around and stopped along next to us. Jennifer and I guessed they had missed the entrance to the campground or had a question for us. However, that was not the case. They had come back to warn us that there was a grizzly bear on the trail up ahead of us coming our way and that we needed to turn around and go back – IN A HURRY! As you can tell from this posting, we out ran the grizzly.
Our next posting will be from , the great land.