ALASKA - 1993
May 10, 1993
Odometer @ Start:152338
Following several months of looking at maps and reading Milepost Magazine about Alaska, the Rays, Cockrells and Bergs gathered at our home in the Georgia mountains to begin the Alaskan Adventure. After finishing last minute details buttoning up the house, all three rigs were hooked up and ready to pull off the mountain by 8:30am. But the ground around the Ray's trailer proved to be too soft for an easy getaway. To get them up the hill, I had to unhitch and couple onto the front of JW's truck for added traction. Should have known better than to park him in that spot. That only delayed us 45 minutes, however, and we were all rolling down the mountain by 9:15am, which was the original plan for departure anyway.
By 5:00pm we had driven 345 miles and gone through four states. Highway 64 from Murphy, NC to Cleveland, TN was as pretty as ever, especially through the Ocoee Gorge. We had some difficulty finding I- 75 in Cleveland. At one point there was concern about the Ray's rig making it under an 11' overpass, but they did, and we soon found the big highway. The drive north on I-75 through the Cumberland Mountains was nice. The mountainsides were covered with many shades of new green. Our first campsite was at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground near Lexington, Kentucky. Lamar prepared our first meal on the road, grilling hamburgers and hotdogs under the maple trees. Then, there was a couple of domino games and early retirement.
May 11, 1993
Odometer @ Start:152683
The Kentucky Horse Park was formerly a privately owned horse farm with beautiful buildings and stables. It consists of over 1,000 acres of rolling bluegrass pasture, criss-crossed with over 50 miles of white fences. The state of Kentucky bought the farm and turned it into a showplace and museum for all things related to horses. The entrance road is lined with white fence and shade trees through which you can see the rolling green acres. Once parked we entered the gate and Visitors Info Center. The first attraction is the life size statue of the great horse, Man-o'-War, standing regally above a series of fountains. His accomplishments as a race horse are remarkable. He is one of the few horses embalmed and buried in toto. These statistics are from memory, so may be slightly flawed. He ran in 23 races, winning 22 of them handily. The one he lost was a controversial race in which he stumbled at the gate, then was boxed in at the rail while a horse named Upset won. He was 30 years old at his death, having sired 62 champions, earning nearly $3 million in stud fees. His 28 foot running stride is the longest of all the champions, a good 4 feet longer than that of Secretariat. That stride is marked off on the walkway for all to marvel at.
After watching a movie called "To Fly Without Wings," we walked to a presentation at the Hall of Champions. Retired champions, including John Henry and Forego, were displayed one at a time, with a very good commentary about each horse's winning record and earnings.
The next attraction was the Parade of Breeds. There, in an outdoor arena, we saw a dynamic display of several breeds, the most notable, at least for me, being the Frisian, a solid black, long haired horse from the Netherlands. We then walked through the Big Barn to see the five new foals that had been born during the winter.
Now old John Henry was a mighty horse, as fast as he could be.
He had a mighty stride that measured twenty-five foot, three.
But Man-0-War was better yet, the greatest of the great,
His stride was even mightier, it measured twenty-eight.
After lunch in the park's cafeteria, we took a buggy ride and strolled through an excellent museum of Kentucky horse memorabilia __ saddles, bridle, bits, stirrups, pictures of breeds with computerized info about each, buggies, wagons, trophies, etc,
May 12, 1993
Odometer @ Start: 152704
With a long driving day ahead following our fearless leader, Lamar Cockrell, we left camp early to avoid peak traffic in St.Louis. It started raining as we left Indiana and entered Illinois and continued for the rest of the day. But for the lowered visibility, the rain was not unpleasant. It cooled things off to the point where it was no longer necessary to run the air conditioning. It also kept the sun out of our eyes.
Now we left north Georgia on the 10th of May
Behind us was that bright red Georgia clay.
From the hills and mountain side
To the flatlands we did ride
Toward Alaska we went singing all the way.
Now we must keep our fearless leader on his toes
Lest he take on off and leave us with our woes.
He at times can get quite speedy
Though we know he is not greedy
And he loses with such grace at dominoes.
In Kentucky's bluegrass hills we spent the night
After watching horses trot both left and right
The lands of Indiana came and went
Through Illinois more miles we spent
Then Stop Number Two came finally into sight
We camped for the night at a KOA in Jonesboro, Missouri, some 35 miles west of St.Louis.
May 13, 1993
Odometer @ Start: 153120
Stop No.3 was St. Joseph, Missouri, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. St. Joseph, in 1860, was the eastern terminus of the Pony Express where for a year and a half, one of America's most romanticized activities, carried mail to and from California. A museum at the old stables does an excellent job of telling the PE story with pictures, employee lists, newspaper accounts, models, saddles, and interpreters ready to answer questions. Archeological excavations on the site have produced many of the artifacts displayed in the museums.
St. Joseph was also the home of Jesse James in 1882 when, while living under the alias Tom Howard, he was killed by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford. His house, moved twice, is now on display behind the Patee House Museum, and contains many of the furnishings owned by Jesse James. He was the son of a minister, yet in a life of crime over 16 years, killed 17 men. He was 34 years old when he died, leaving a widow and two small children.
The Patee House Museum was a hotel in the 1880s called World's Hotel. The lower two floors of the four story building have been turned into a museum that reflects the history of St.Joseph and the development of the West. All sorts of items are contained in the museum, including an old steam engine, fire fighting equipment, weapons, telephone and telegraph equipment, clothes, furniture, cars, trucks, dolls, toys, artwork, a saloon, an apothecary, a dentist's office, printing presses, and much much more.
We were pretty well exhausted after inspecting all of this, but not too tired to enjoy a good meal at Wyatt's Cafeteria before heading back to camp.
May 14, 1993
Odometer @ Start:153399
The little campground near St.Joseph was nice, but it posed a critical problem getting out. A single lane road lead in, and once entered there was no backing up. The road wound among trees and went up and down hills, then turned into this nice little campsite. J.W. got caught between two trees, and we had to pull the trees apart with a rope to get him through. The egress road led further down the hill and became narrower. I decided I couldn't get out that way, so put the trailer on the front hitch and proceeded to back out frontwards, but I didn't reckon on the loose gravel on the hills. After several false starts, we made it up with a lot of outside guidance and after getting up momentum. We met some interesting people from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. our next stop, who advised on things to see and do there.
When we passed the reservation of the Sioux,
Oer the airways came the song, Sioux City Sue.
Not one brave came out to stop us,
Tho we were sore afraid they'd scalp us,
But our fearless leader drove us right straight through.
The evening after we were encamped in Sioux Falls, the same folks we had met at the St.Joseph campground took the trouble to come out from their home several miles away to see us to be sure we had a good map of their city and were welcomed properly. What uncommon hospitality! We decided to spend the weekend in their town. Everybody is getting more relaxed.
Sioux Falls is a fast growing town of about 100,000 people. Among other things, it is the home of the Austad golfing supply factory. Their showroom was an attraction in itself. Not only did it have a display of all manner of golfing equipment, but it also had putting greens, an indoor driving range with computerized swing analyzers, and a semi-computerized golf course, called Par-Tee. A picture of the fairway is flashed on the back wall of a deep room. The participant tees of with his own clubs driving into that wall. Depending on how the ball was hit, a new picture appears which presents the conditions for the next shot. A computer keeps track of the scores. It's much like the computer game except that you actually stand up there and hit a real ball. During the winter season in this cold climate this is a popular pastime, and reservations have to be made well in advance for tee times.
Sioux Falls draws its name from a series of waterfalls in the Sioux River which runs through town. The river runs over an outcropping of pink quartzite or pipestone to create the falls. A high bluff on the west side of the river affords an outstanding view of the city and provides a very nice area for residences.
We did a little shopping at the Empire Mall and HyVee grocery store.
At the Trading Post we stocked up on supplies,
We sampled sausage links and hunks of pizza pies.
Walked the mall and shopped an hour
While our girls used their will power
To resist the many things that were good buys.
At a steak house in the little town of "Tea,"
We filled up on western beefsteak, don't you see.
If we keep this rate of eating
It will complicate our seating
And we'll all be wearing jeans, size fifty-three.
The Tea Steak House was another suggestion from our Sioux Falls campground friends.
On Sunday we found a little church called the First Southern Baptist Church of Sioux Falls. Baptists are outnumbered here 10 to 1 by Lutherans. In all our years of travelling we had not heard a better sermon. It was built around the question, "Have you really considered the cost - of losing your soul?" The sermon made it perfectly clear that this was not a trivial matter. The pastor's name was Robert Grimm, originally from Oklahoma.
May 17, 1993
Odometer @ Start:153805
Rain that came down in torrents just before dawn left the campground in such a quagmire that we all had to be pulled out with a tractor. Yet, we left Sioux Falls with pleasant memories, convinced of the wholesomeness of the people there. The plains were green and lush with new grass as we drove westward through South Dakota.
Sixty miles west of Sioux Falls, we came to the town of Mitchell, the home of the "the world's only" Corn Palace. This 100 year old institution is unique with an outer facade made of corn, fashioned in artistic design that is changed every year. Inside is an auditorium and arena where various types of shows are held in season. Turrets and spires on top also appear and are changed with the years. It was an interesting stop, but hardly worth going too far out of the way to see unless attending one of the special events held there.
Lamar had an appointment in Spearfish, SD to get some work done on his truck, so we drove further than planned, bypassing the Mount Rushmore area since all aboard had seen that before.
May 18, 1993
Odometer @ Start:154219
Acting on a tip from people at the Ford dealer in Spearfish, Lamar took us on a shortcut through the Cheyenne Indian reservation in southeastern Montana. The scenery was outstanding - when the road smoothed out enough to enjoy it. Construction slowed us down though, and we didn't arrive in Hardin, Montana until 6:30pm. But that included a stop at the Battleground site at the Little Bighorn River where George Armstrong Custer made his celebrated "last stand" on June 25, 1876.
Having read so much about that battle, it was interesting to see where it happened. It put the story in perspective. The U.S. Cavalry was just plain stupid, or Custer was, to attack the Indians there. It is estimated that there were 15,000 Indians camped in the valley on that summer day in 1876. The Indians simply overwhelmed the 225 men of the 7th Cavalry. There was not one survivor. It must have been a spectacular triumph for the Indians under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. But the Indians were doomed. The battle of the Little Bighorn became a rallying cry for the relentless pursuit of the Indians. Though really defeated in battle, the Indians were finally starved out by the slaughter of the buffalo.
All the soldiers killed at the Little Bighorn were buried in a mass grave atop the hill where Custer himself died. The only accounts of what took place came from a few documents found at the scene, interviews with Indians, and supposition from the position of the bodies when they were found later. There is a large concrete marker above the mass grave. Individual markers have been placed at places around the battlefield where the skirmishes took place. A visitors center tells the story of what happened. Near the visitors center is another national cemetery where veteran of other wars are buried. There is also a museum on the grounds which make up the National Monument.
May 19, 1993
Odometer @ Start:154465
From Hardin, we drove to Billings, then north on SR3, west on US12, north on US191, and west on US87 to Great Falls, Montana. After checking into a very nice KOA (expensive too), we drove to the river front to view the falls on the Missouri River. This is one of the spots where the Lewis and Clark expedition had to leave the river and carry their river boats by land to re-enter the river above the falls. The falls are still nice, but a dam and power plant has altered them from the way they appeared when the L&C expedition went through in 1803.
The Charles Russell Museum in Great Falls is probably what we will remember Great Falls most for. It houses a tremendous collection of that artist's works. He was a painter, sculptor, poet, cowboy, conservationist, and friend to the Indians. His western oriented art portrays many phases of the vanishing era of the Old West. His Indian portraits reflect his sympathy for them. His sculpturing of horses, Indians, cowboys, and animals is every bit as impressive as his paintings. I was almost as impressed with this museum as I was the Warther museum back in Ohio. We also walked through his old home and studio which are still where they were when he lived and worked there in the first quarter of this century.
After touring the Russell Museum, we ate dinner at the Kings Table Buffet at the mall, then walked the mall to settle the food. Returning to camp we resumed our domino games. Lamar continues to lose with grace. The score at this point was Lamar-9; J.W.-10; Walter-18. J.W. and I know that It's only a matter of time before our fortunes change.
May 20, 1993
Odometer @ Start:154755
From Great Falls we drove north on US89 through Chocteau and Browning, Montana. At Browning we stopped at the Museum of the Plains Indian. This was one of Bus Maynard's recommendations for the '91 caravan that we did not get to see then. Exhibits of weapons, tools, clothing, artwork, and Indian crafts told the story of the plains Indian way of life. The Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Sioux, Assiniboine, Arapahoe, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Flathead, Chippewa and Cree had all contributed to the exhibits.
Today's 150 mile trip was much better than those 350 and 400 mile days. We quickly discovered that Chewing Blackbones Campground has gone out of business, so came back to the St.Mary KOA. They had only been open two days. We had our pick of spots in full view of the majestic mountains of Glacier National Park.
We checked the post office in Babb for mail only to find that it had not arrived. We then drove in to Swiftcurrent Lake for a look at Many Glacier Lodge. The lodge was still closed, but the scenery was terrific. Saw some bighorn sheep on the mountain in the distance.
May 21, 1993
Odometer @ Start:154910
After a rainy night the air cleared beautifully, although showers persisted throughout the day. In between the showers, the sky was a brilliant blue with banks of fast moving clouds coming in from the west. The mountains stood out in sharp relief against the sky. We drove as far up the Going-to-the-Sun Road as it was open, about 14 miles, stopping at every overlook for picture taking and much "oohing and ahing." To say that these mountains are majestic and awesome doesn't do them justice. They are so massive! We walked a trail down to Baring Falls and around the edge of St.Mary Lake to Sun Point, about 2 KM total, then backtracked to St.Mary for some ice cream and shopping at stores just opening for the new season.
We spent the rest of the day in Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park where we saw our first wildlife of note. An elk herd was grazing in a meadow upon entering town, and a flock of bighorn sheep with mule deer intermixed were in a little meadow just outside the town of Waterton. At a cafe in Waterton we had what was supposed to be a light lunch, but when we capped it with a special berry pie it became the meal for the day. The pie was made with strawberries, rhubarb, apples, huckleberries, raspberries, and a couple of other kinds of berries. Topped with ice cream, it was delicious.
On the advice of the ranger at the Visitor Information station, we drove the 10K Promenade Akamina road to Camaron Lake. The road climbs steadily into the mountains, following the Cameron River with its many waterfalls and rapids, then ending at Cameron Lake for a special treat. The was 90% frozen over, the first time we had ever seen that much ice. The sun angle reflecting off of the ice and the rugged mountain backdrop presented a scene hard to top. It's really going to be hard to find scenery in Alaska better than this was.
The only downside of our stay at Glacier was that our mail did not show up as it had been supposed to.
We started a spades tournament on a schedule prepared by J.W. The first night ended with Ann, J.W., Betty Jean and Walter each getting one win while Lamar and Frances sat out.
May 22, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155121
We crossed into Canade at the Port of Piegan. The border guards decided to check both the Bergs and the Cockrells, and it was a thorough check. We haven'tdetermined how the Rays escaped scrutiny. Nothing was found amiss, and we were allowed to proceed after about 20 minutes.
About twelve miles west of Fort MacLeod is the "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump," an archeological site of world importance. In Archeological terms it is as important as the Egyptian pyramids and Taj Mahal. There are many places in North America where the natives stampeded buffalo over a cliff as a mode of hunting, but this one is probably the largest and oldest of them all. Carbon dating has proven that the cliff was used as a jump for at least 6,000 years, and there is other evidence that it was used perhaps as long ago as 10,000 years. The very existence of the native tribes depended on this harvest of buffalo during the short spring season. The pile of bones and soil around them is at least 30 feet thick and spread over a 1,000 foot long area at the base of the cliff. We pulled the trailers up to the remote parking lot and caught a shuttle bus to the entrance to the museum. The exhibits are spread over four floor levels excavated into the cliffside. The visit was well worth the 20 miles out of the way we drove to get there.
Traffic was heavy as we drove through the outskirts of Calgary and found our way through town to Trans-Canada Highway #1 and then to Banff and the Tunnel Mountain Campground. We were met at the CG entrance by several elk. After setting up camp and tiptoeing through the elk turds, we drove into Banff for a look see. The streets were jammed with people, mostly young folks, in town for the Canadian holiday weekend (Victoria Day). Then, as the rain came, the mountain tops all got lost in the clouds.
In the spades tournament Ann, Lamar, Frances and Walter each won another game.
May 23, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155413
With no Baptist churches in Banff, we decided to be Presbyterians for the day, but we got the time for the service wrong and arrived an hour too soon. So, we walked on down the street to a United of Canada church. The Methodists, Congregationalists, and a few Presbyterians joined together in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada. There were more visitors in the service than home folks, but we were greeted warmly. We were the only ones from the U.S. The service was interesting in its differences, but not at all like what we've been used to.
We celebrated the Rays' 48th anniversary with dinner at the Banff Springs Hotel. The hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1888 on the mountainside overlooking the valley downstream from the Bow River Falls, is an island of elegant living in the forests of the frontier. Their brunch buffet was outstanding, and the place was packed. We ate in the Alberta Room and had a delicious buffet spread with quite an array of meats, vegetables, fruit, soups, and desserts. No one left hungry.
Banff was quite a place! Tucked in these massive snowcapped mountains alongside the Bow River, the town is full of shops and accommodations for tourists. The mountains are too massive and beautiful to adequately describe. The rivers, waterfalls, lakes, snow capped peaks, and wildlife make it an unusually attractive place. We saw many elk and bighorn sheep, and hundreds of prairie dogs. According to the rangers, bear, mountain goats, and moose are also plentiful, but we didn't spot any of those.
Buying supplies and judging distances in Canada was a challenge. Everything is on the metric system. Fuel was sold by the liter and cookies by the gram. Distance was measured in kilometers, altitude in meters, temperature in degrees Celsius. U.S. postage stamps no longer work. It got a bit complicated trying to compare prices with different units and a Canadian dollar worth 20% less than the U.S. dollar. At my first stop in a Canadian gas station, the tank held 117 liters that cost $53.00, Canadian! But if memory serves correctly, gas prices are down a bit from two years ago, and the U.S. dollar buys more Canadian dollars.
May 24, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155493
We drove the 45 miles to Lake Louise via the Bow Valley Parkway, passing Johnson Canyon which brought back some memories of a long walk in the rain. But this day was beautiful with deep blue skies in abundance. We checked into the Lake Louise Trailer Village, then drove out to see the scenery. Lake Louise and Lake Morraine were both iced over. That, however, only added to the awesome splendor of those places. Crowds had thinned out some with the close of the Victoria Day weekend, yet there were still a lot of people around. We did some walking around the lakes and climbed a trail to the beautiful overlooking rocks at Lake Morraine.
Many hiking trails led out from the campground, meandering along the Bow River and through the pine forests. Walking along the river, Lamar spotted an old bull elk feeding on the greenery on a little island. He was scraggly looking at this time of year, shedding his winter coat. This old guy was just sprouting his new set of antlers. He easily stood six feet tall even without a rack.
Betty Jean prepared tacos for supper, then the girls took care of the more mundane things of life on the road such as washing and ironing. The domino tournament continued with Lamar winning three straight games.
May 25, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155543
The Trans-Canada Highway crosses the Continental Divide at Kicking Horse Pass which is also the dividing line between Alberta and British Columbia. The Canadian Pacific Railroad built their railraod through the pass in the late 1880s, but political pressure to finish the route caused them to forego safety in lieu of speed. The original route was thus put on too steep a grade, and many accidents occurred and many people were killed when the trains careened down the grade out of control. In 1907 the problem was remedied in a unique way. At tremendous cost, spiral tunnels were blasted through the mountainside to stretch out the track by about four miles, thereby reducing the grade. An exhibit at the site explains the unusual new routing which added 4 1/2 miles and reduced the grade. Unfortunately, we were about five minutes late to see a train making the run.
We were also disappointed that the road to the Takakkawa Falls was closed due to an avalanche. We showed the others our video shots of the falls taken two years ago. Those 1200 foot falls were spectacular.
Driving back to Lake Louise along the old #1A road, we stopped for a picnic at the Continental Divide which was dramatized there by a little stream called Divide Creek which splits with one part flowing off to the west and ultimately the Pacific Ocean and the other flowing eastward toward the Atlantic. We picked up some souvenir rocks out of Divide Creek, including one with veins of gold that Frances found. The British Columbia side of the Divide is called Yoho National Park.
May 26, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155575
The Rays and Cockrells left Lake Louise to drive north along the Icefields Parkway to Jasper while we left the parkway about 50 miles north of Lake Louise to drive eastward to Edmonton. Having seen all of the Icefields Parkway before, we elected to forego those steep grades and go on to Edmonton with plans to rejoin the others there on Friday. We drove by Kootenay Plains where the caravan parked in 1991 while we were with Dave in Calgary. As the road descended further out of the mountains we passed rich and rolling farm and pastureland to Rocky Mountain House and Red Deer. We turned north at Red Deer on Hwy #2 to Edmonton. After progressing only 45 miles in the last four days, today's 314 miles were a little tough. Tomorrow we'll see what the West Edmonton Mall is all about.
May 27, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155889
West Edmonton Mall is no doubt an enormous place and a mecca for those who like malls, but to walk from one end to the other is an endurance test. The layout includes an ice skating rink, an amusement park with two roller coasters, a miniature golf course, a huge swimming pool and beach, fish pools and porpoise show, and a vast array of stores, including an automobile dealer with a large display. There were 55 shoe stores alone. To begin with it was a little intimidating, but Ann, being the original mall baby, never broke stride. That's not quite true. She did falter a couple of times to sit on a bench to watch the passersby. It was senior citizens day on the skating rink. Some of the skaters looked hardly able to walk, but were skating with ease.
About 4:30pm our friends rolled into camp. They had been to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway and were full of tales about the wonders they had seen. They had ridden the glacier bus on the Athabascan Glacier and walked around both Sunwapta and Athabascan Falls. They had a black bear come right up to their campers. Frances and Betty Jean were anxious to see the mall, so we went back again in the evening.
As we moved farther north, daylight began lasting longer. It got light about 5:00am and was not dark until 10:00pm. By the time we reach Alaska, we're told that it may never get dark.
May 28, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155940
Everybody went their separate ways into Edmonton for a change. We drove downtown to see what the city looked like. It was clean, green and prosperous looking. The streets were wide and neat, lined with trees. Near town the roads dip down a high bluff to the river. Parks along the river are well manicured. Modern buildings are everywhere with fancy architecture. The Cockrells stopped at the provincial capital building and Frances found the thrill of unplanned discovery "on the road." She's going to make it as a traveller yet. They were so impressed with the capital tour, they told the rest of us so we could enjoy it too. We got a good civics lesson on Canadian provincial politics as well as a look at the beautiful marble building with all its symbolisms.
May 29, 1993
Odometer @ Start:155975
Fort Edmonton Park is a replica of the original fort that was located across the river at the site of the present capital. This was an outpost of the Hudson Bay Company established about 1790 for the exclusive purpose of trading for furs, principally beaver furs. The furs were loaded onto longboats and transported down the Saskatchawan River to Hudson Bay and then to England. The beaver pelts were prized for the making of hats. Mercury used in the process of removing the fine hair from the pelts affected the brains of those handling it, thus the term, "mad hatter." The trading post was the center of white man's culture in the region for 100 years. While the walls were high and strong, the only thing they had to fear was a few grizzly bears. Hudson Bay Company still exists as one of the oldest chartered corporations in the world. Interpreters at the park told this story, and period buildings in the park told the larger story of the history of Edmonton. Asking where Edmonton got its name, I was told that it was named for a small village in England that has since been swallowed up by London.
The Alberta/Saskatchewan area is the home of a large number of people from the Ukraine, and their influence shows in many places. The unique design of the Ukrainian Catholic churches with their onion shaped domes is an example. Their chanting music and occasional signs written in their odd alphabet are others. In more modern times there has been a large influx of people from Asia. They are more noticeable with their distinctive features.
Oil wells were plentiful throughout the countryside, and the abundance of natural gas was reflected in the price of propane. A 30 lb. tank cost $7.00 Canadian. With the presence of the oil and the advantages of being the political center of the province, there was every sign of prosperity in Edmonton. We will probably remember it most for the mall, but there is much more substance than that to the city.
At the center of Alberta lies a town,
Noted for its shopping mall for miles around,
Once a trading post for furs
Where political life now stirs,
There are many cultures waiting to be found,
The old trading post is now a mall of note.
In times gone by the furs went out by boat.
Now tourists flock from miles to look,
And shop and ride or buy a book,
While children play or skate or ride the float.
As I write this, it is 9:15pm, and the sun is still high in the sky.
May 30, 1993
Odometer @ Start:156018
Sunday brought time to attend church again. This time it was the Parkland Baptist Church of Spruce Grove, Alberta, a suburb of Edmonton. This was a little neighborhood church in a growing community. They were breaking ground for a new addition. The church was a part of the North American Baptist Association, formerly the German Baptist Association. The pastor was Rev. Doug Bittle, and he was an enthusiastic speaker.
We spent the afternoon doing chores such as washing the trailer down. Ann washed and ironed our clothes.
We played cards with the Rays in the evening while the Cockrells rested.
May 31, 1993
Odometer @ Start:156048
We left Edmonton about 7:30am for the relatively short drive (200 miles) to Valleyview, Alberta. Arriving about noon, Lamar and I found a golf course and played nine holes. The campground we chose was Sherk's, a brand new facility in an aspen grove atop a hill overlooking a broad plain. Not much to the town of Valleyview - a few stores and a bank. Oil and gas wells appeared to support the local economy. Lamar and Betty Jean swept the spades games from Frances and J.W. while the Bergs rested. The domino tournament continued with Lamar graciously losing.
June 1, 1993
Odometer @ Start:156258
June was ushered in with a stiff wind from the east. It pushed us along the highway, helping considerably with the consumption of gasoline. We spotted a moose near the road just before reaching Dawson Creek. It ran across the highway between the Cockrell and Ray trailers before anyone could get their cameras out.
Then came Mile Zero at Dawson Creek - The start of the Alaskan Highway. We stopped to take pictures at the original mile post, then walked into town to see the more prominent post at the intersection of 10th Street and 102nd Avenue. While considering whether to eat lunch at the Alaska Restaurant we were advised that a better place to eat was Geri's Tea House two blocks further down. That advice turned out to be well given as we had an excellent lunch.
As we walked back to the parking lot, we passed the city block that was destroyed in 1943 when on February 13th 60 cases of dynamite accidentally exploded. The explosives were part of the supplies being brought in from the U.S. for the new highway. During construction of the roadway, the population of Dawson Creek grew from 500 to 10,000. Dawson Creek was at the end of the railroad in 1942 and thus aptly suited to become the supply depot for the stuff coming in for the highway construction. The road was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers using 11,000 soldiers and 16,000 civilians. The road made it possible for the U.S. to successfully defend Alaska from a Japanese invasion. It took nine months to build the 1520 miles from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks.
We passed through another time zone change at the Alberta/British Columbia border. The clocks now reflected a three hour time difference from back home. That is, most of the clocks reflect that difference. Whenever we want to know what time it is at home, we ask Betty Jean. Her watch is still on Georgia time.
We camped at Mile Zero Campground next door to the Walter Wright Pioneer Village. The village is designed to give the visitor a view of what Dawson Creek was like before the start of the Alaska Highway when their world was forever changed. Old homes, a school, two churches, a general store and a blacksmith shop are all fitted out in fixtures of the 1940s. Antiques usually predate the lives of the visitor, but these all brought back memories. While the exhibit was not exceedingly impressive, it was interesting.
We were not impressed with the campground and decided to try some Provincial Parks next. The games continue. Betty Jean led the field at this point of the spades competition. Lamar was winning again in the one-on-one domino games, but continued to struggle in the three handed tournament. The standings there were: Walter-35; J.W.-24; Lamar-17.
June 2, 1993
Odometer @ Start:156410
A few miles out of Dawson Creek we saw another moose at the side of the road. This one was knee deep in a pond with her head immersed in the water eating the grass on the bottom. A little further down the road a large black bear crossed the road in front of us and disappeared into the woods. We also saw a fox cross the road. This was definitely the wilderness. Miles of roadway without any sign of civilization. About 100 miles out we began to see mountains in the west, but the road stayed well to the east of them. The road surface was surprisingly smooth with only occasional rough spots.
There were some steep grades as the road descended into river canyons, particularly the Peace River Canyon. We stopped at an overlook about halfway down the grade for a fantastic view of the city of Taylor across the river and a stroll through a wild rose garden. That was literally "stopping to smell the roses." That canyon must have been a terrific challenge to the roadbuilders back in 1942. The river was wide and in the bottom of a canyon at least 1,000 feet deep. Then the roadbuilders had to contend with seasonal flooding that washed out the earlier attempts to bridge the river.
We stopped for the night at Mile Post 217, at the Prophet River Provincial Park Campground. Although we had no hookups, it was one of the nicest spots we had stopped in. The following is dedicated to Lamar and entitled "He Blocked the Alaskan Highway."
Lamar has found his claim to fame
And this is how he got his name
If he had listened to his mate
He'd never have passed the campground gate
And when he tried to turn around
He ran his Ford into the ground
Now we will all remember this day
As the one when Lamar blocked the Alaskan Highway
As Lamar sailed on by the campground entrance he quickly told those of us behind not to make the same mistake, so we went on in and set up, but the Cockrells didn't come and didn't come. Just before we were getting ready to go look for them, in they came with a scary story of how he had pulled into a little side road planning to back out on the highway to turn around. But the gas in his main fuel tank ran out just as the trailer was squarely out on the road. Then his truck wouldn't start on the auxiliary tank until he primed the carburetor. Meanwhile traffic backed up and some nasty words were thrown out. Fortunately, nothing serious developed, and Lamar quickly recovered his wits enough to grill some perfect steaks for us, and we feasted.
We walked some of the trails around the park picking up rocks and getting water from an extremely cold spring.
Betty Jean and Walter continued to win at spades, blanking out Ann and J.W. to lead the tournament.
June 3, 1993
Odometer @ Start:156627
The good highway ended at Fort Nelson. From there on we averaged about 35 mph driving over new construction and old rough pavement. It was also at Fort Nelson that the highway veered westward and entered the mountains, so not only was the road surface bad, but the road was curvy and steep.
The more we see of the Alaskan Highway, the more we realize how remarkable an achievement the original construction was. Fifteen hundred miles through all sorts of terrain, out in a wilderness, with all kinds of weather, and the feat was accomplished in just nine months. Many of the original curves and hills have been straightened and cut down, and it is becoming more modern with each passing year, but none of that takes away from the original achievement.
Upon pulling into camp at Liard Hot Springs our vehicles and trailers were coated with mud. We didn't expect that this early, but even with the mud we saw some of the prettiest scenery of the trip. The road crossed several rivers and paralleled others as we climbed and descended through the mountains. Some of the steepest grades were at Steamboat Mountain.
There was no scenery any prettier anywhere than Muncho Lake. The road ran alongside the emerald green lake for several miles. We decided to time our return trip so as to stay at the Strawberry Flats campground at Mile 437.7 on the lake looking across at high mountains.
The campground at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park is one of the most popular in British Columbia. We were told that it fills every night from 1 May throughout the summer. We got in early enough to find three good sites in the midst of a stand of birch trees. A half mile down a boardwalk we found the springs and took a dip in the hot (125 degrees F) sulphur water. As a result of the hot water in the area there are many species of tropical plants growing naturally. It must be a mecca for wild animals during the harsh winter months. Moose track was all around, but we saw no live animals there. Earlier in the day we saw a moose swimming in a rather large lake near the road, and a small group of stone sheep right alongside the highway.
June 4, 1993
Odometer @ Start: 156887
Hearing how the moose came to the hot springs made me want to get some pictures early in the morning, so I got up at 4:30am (it was already bright daylight) and walked the boardwalk down to the springs again. There were no moose, but there were already people in the pools at that hour.
We pulled out of Liard about 7:00am heading toward Watson Lake. Not far down the road, Betty Jean spotted a bear at the edge of the woods. We were riding caboose and were able to take advantage of the sighting and get some pictures using the telephoto lens. He was a big one.
It was still early when we reached Watson Lake and the famous sign forest. This was started in 1942 when a homesick soldier working on the highway put up a sign showing the name of his hometown in Ohio and the distance to it. Since then some 13,000 signs have been added. We saw many signs of familiar places like Plant City, FL, Hiawassee, GA, Blairsville, GA, Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Palmetto, FL, etc. We watched a movie at the Visitor Center about the construction of the highway, and got an explanation about why the mile posts don't agree with the Milepost Book.
When Canada changed to the metric system, they replaced all of the mileposts with kilometer posts, leaving only the mileposts that had historic significance during the first construction. Since then, there has been a continuing process of road improvement, straightening curves, etc. This has led to a significant shortening of driving distances, which explains why the Historic Mile Posts don't correspond with the miles shown in the book. Liard Hot Springs was at Historic Mile Post 496, but it was at mile 477 in the book.
We picked up several more layers of mud on the vehicles with no way to get it off before Whitehorse.
The further west we travelled, the higher the mountains got. The peaks were all snow covered now. The scene of rivers and lakes near the highway with the mountains in the background compensates for the mud and dust of the road. One day this road will be a superhighway if it is ever finished, but that's not likely to be in our lifetime.
Traffic is getting heavier with a steady stream of RVs heading for Alaska. I thought we were beating the crowds by coming early, but not so. We crossed into the Yukon late in the day and stopped for the night in Rancheria (Ranch-er-ree'-ya).
June 5, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157114
Not far out of Rancheria we hit the worst road yet. There was about six miles of rough surface under construction that really shook everything up and plastered more mud on the vehicles. But soon we were on good surface again, forgetting the bad part. The Rays led our little caravan to Whitehorse where we found a commercial campground with hookups for the weekend. A pressure washer came in handy to clean up everything.
There was a man
who had a plan,
his name was big John Ray
His wife is a queen,
her name's Betty Jean,
and she helps him all the way
'Twas the fifth of June,
a while before noon,
as he led us into town,
The road was bad
and we nearly went mad,
but we made it safe and sound
Now B.J.Ray, has a little to say,
about almost everything
She thinks it a crock,
to change her clock,
but she's sweeter than a rose in Spring
She may be late,
and you may have to wait,
like when she locked herself out of the store.
Worth a laugh or two,
she's a friend through and through,
and she always comes back for more.
She's a friend indeed,
come time to feed,
and she makes the best lemon pie
Her biscuits and gravy,
would feed a navy,
and that country ham, my-oh-my!
At spades she's mean
when she loses her queen,
but she loves to trump your king.
She's a good partner,
makes me try harder,
'cause I know how she likes to win.
That doesn't quite rhyme, but I remember a time
when we went set on one in a hurry
But she usually sets pace with her big trump ace,
and with a smile says, "Not to worry!"
After getting cleaned up we walked the trail to Miles Canyon where so many people in 1898 sailed through on the Yukon River on their way to the gold fields at Dawson. The clear green color of the river was startling as it rushed through the canyon with its fifty foot vertical walls. In Whitehorse we visited the MacBride Museum where there was an excellent collection of animals of the region. The grizzly bears, caribou, black bear, dall sheep, mountain goat, wolves, wolverines, coyotes, fox, moose, and many smaller species were all stuffed, of course. An interpreter put on a short program explaining the habits of the bears, wolves, and caribou, using beautiful skins of each to emphasize his points.
I also learned at the museum that Sam McGee was a real man, though he only lent his name to Robert Service to use in the poem, "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Robert Service was a teller in the CBIC Bank in Whitehorse. He liked to use the names of real people in his fictional poetic tales.
On Saturday night we went to see the Frantic Follies vaudeville revue in Whitehorse, a lively show with can-can girls, singers, musicians, and a great routine. The theme of most of the numbers was the Yukon or the Klondyke or the gold rush of '98.
June 6, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157344
While the others were doing chores Ann and I rode down to Carcross. This is where the gold rush bunch came through in 1898. On their way to Lake Bennett where they had to build a boat and await the spring thaw before making their way to the Klondyke. The little town is in a beautiful spot between two lakes at the foot of huge mountains. There was not much there but a general store, a hotel, and the old railroad station (now a museum and info center). On the way we passed beautiful emerald green lakes and forests of evergreen.
Back in Whitehorse we went to the Museum of Transportation which told the story again of the evolution of transportation from the time of the gold seekers to the present time. Of particular interest was the incredible story of how the railroad was built from Skagway through White Pass and on to Whitehorse. That accomplishment shortened the travel time from Skagway to Dawson from 6 months to 6 days. We made reservations to ride on that railroad from Skagway to White Pass.
For our last night in Canada for a while, the Rays provided venison for a delicious cookout. We are definitely in the land of the midnight sun. As I write this the sun is still high in the sky - at 10:30pm. Next - ALASKA!!
June 7, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157475
We made it! ALASKA! The 100 mile stretch of the Klondyke Highway from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory to Skagway, Alaska has to be one of the most spectacular highways in the world. Seeing the mountains ahead of us as we left Whitehorse, the closer we came to them the better became the scenery. Forests of jack and lodgepole pine interspersed with aspen and birch lined the road. Lakes and rivers and waterfalls were backed by snow capped and snow covered mountains reaching to the clouds. Then as the road neared the summit it rose above the tree line and we were in the snow fields. Gorgeous! The road surface was good all the way although steep in places. The inspection at U.S. Customs was perfunctory. Just, "Where are you from?" "You're a long way from home" and "Have a good trip." Then we were on the steep descent to Skagway. Two cruise ships were in the harbor as we entered town.
Skagway was the gateway to the Klondyke in the gold rush of 1898. Ships brought gold hungry people from Seattle, dumping them on shore with their ton of supplies to carry on foot up the Chilkoot or White Pass, then down to Lake Bennett. In the first year, between 20,000 and 30,000 goldseekers spent an average of 3 months packing their outfits up the trails. To look at those trails now makes it seem impossible, for they had to climb the trail with a heavy pack not just once, but 15 or 20 times to get all their stuff up.
The story of Skagway and the gold rush is complete only with the story of Soapy Smith, a con man and extortionist who in the lawless days of the rush, made a fortune off the unfortunate. We watched a humorous drama the first evening there which told the story of Soapy and Skagway and how Soapy got himself killed in a gun battle with Frank Reid.
June 8, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157580
We were at the depot early to board the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad for a train trip up White Pass. With a tour ship (the Crown Princess) in, there were so many people wanting to take the train that they had to put on another train. Ours was the second one. To add a little glamour to the event the train came into town pulled by an old Baldwin steam locomotive, but on the outskirts of town three diesel engines were substituted to make the long pull up the mountain. The tracks followed the Skagway River up the valley, then clungs to the rocky cliffs that rise nearly perpendicular from the valley floor. A trestle spans a gorge to a solid rock wall, then the track disappears into a tunnel, emerging beside traces of the old trail that the Klondykers took. In about two hours we were at the summit of White Pass, having traversed the wild rugged mountain country that once posed such an obstacle to reaching the gold fields. We saw waterfalls, frozen alpine lakes, and craggy snow covered peaks. Despite the hardships, the Klondykers also saw some gorgeous vistas. The railroad has been in continuous operation since 1900, first hauling the goldseekers to Whitehorse in the Yukon, then used to take supplies in for the construction of the Alaskan Highway, then as transportation for ore from the mines, and now as an excursion for tourists.
The old cemetery in Skagway is a mile outside of town near a 300 foot waterfall. About sixty graves have been identified, including those of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith and Frank Reid, the bad guy and the town hero who killed each other in a shootout on the wharf in the summer of 1898. Most of the graves were dated about that same time, in the midst of the gold rush. The falls were named for Frank Reid.
June 9, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157588
The campground where we were parked in Skagway was within walking distance of town, the railroad depot, the ferry docks, and the helicopter pads. Wednesday's excursion was a helicopter ride to a nearby glacier. I was the only brave soul among us. Three copters were in service, taking five passengers each. We flew out toward the abandoned town of Dyea where the Klondykers started up the Chilkoot, then followed the trail up the mountain to the steepest section where they had to cut steps in the ice to make the ascent. It still seems incredible that people were so crazed for gold that they would make such an effort. We then flew over rocky crags and peaks to an ice field on the other side of the mountain range. As we came in for a landing on the glacier, there were fifteen or twenty people down on the ice dwarfed by the size of the glacier. It soon dawned on us what was taking place. We jumped out of the helicopter and walked off a ways as those other people loaded back on. Then the whirlybirds took off leaving us to explore the glacier. It was a surprise and a strange feeling to be left up there like that. But an employee of the flying company was there to show and tell about the glacier. After about 30 minutes, the helicopters returned with another load of people, and as they disembarked we got on and flew back to Skagway. It was an incredible experience to fly through those snow fields. I was fortunate to get the front seat by the pilot, so I kept the camcorder going, but the pictures don't do the trip justice.
We moved down to the ferry docks after noon to be the first in line. We were parked in the shadow of a huge tour boat, the Regal Princess. After getting set up we drove over to the old townsite of Dyea. Not much remains of what was once a town the same size as Skagway. When the railroad was completed in 1900, there was no longer any reason for Dyea, so everyone moved to Skagway. Some ruins are still there, but trees have grown up in the old streets. It was a beautiful, peaceful setting for a town. A field of wild irises attracted our attention as we walked around for about an hour. We stopped by the old cemetery where some sixty victims of an avalanche on the Chilkoot were buried in April of 1898.
June 10, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157600
We spent the night in the parking lot at the ferry docks while waiting for our departure time. I took a walk into town and up a hiking trail to Lower Dewey Lake, Skagway's water source. The 3/4 mile long distance to the lake was steep and rocky. It scaled the mountain overlooking town, and about 1/2 way up, a clearing allowed a beautiful view of the town and harbor. The last 1/4 of a mile was a walk over a carpet of crushed pine needles through lush spruce forest. The lake was a typical mountain lake with clear water.
We walked into town for a lunch of fish and chips (halibut) at the Prospector's Inn. We heard several requests for Alaskan beer all over Skagway, including at the restaurant. In most instances, the answer was always, "We've sold out our weekly allotment." or "No beer, but we have pale ale."
We met a young couple, (Jim and Kim Bradley) also waiting at the ferry, who were returning home to Juneau. They knew Marci and Geoff from a time when they played softball together and were full of praise for what the Larson's had done with their business. (Geoff and Marci Larson own the Alaskan Brewing and Bottling Co. in Juneau.) Jim's father was an attorney in Juneau. They told us a lot of what to expect in Juneau.
The ferry loading was unique. The ferry tied up at the dock with its side door facing the side of the dock. To get in we had to drive down a long ramp, then make a hard right angle, then drive up a short ramp into the loading door. Once inside, more maneuvering had to be done to get lined up in the correct lane so we could get off at Juneau. All of that was interesting with our 54 foot rig. The reverse had to be done to get off. It was a long slow process of loading as each vehicle had to be custom fit into place.
We stopped first at Haines, but though there was a two hour layover, we didn't get off. The ferry terminal at Haines is about six miles from town, and nothing ashore looked interesting enough to get off for. The wind picked up considerably as we progressed southward. Huge snow covered mountains and glaciers line both sides of the waterway called the Lynn Canal. By the time we arrived in the Juneau area it was nearly 11:00pm and growing dark, but the scene was still a beautiful sight.
Juneau is a sea level city of 30,000 people, literally where the mountains meet the sea. Just north of the city the Mendenhall Glacier dominates the skyline and Mount Juneau backdrops the city itself. Across a relatively small body of water called the Gastineau Inlet is the island of Douglas. Large tour boats come up the inlet and dock at the Juneau harbor. It is a unique city in many ways. It is in a beautiful setting with mountains, seashore, glaciers, and fresh water streams, but although it is the capital of Alaska, it can be accessed only by airplane or boat.
The one RV Park with electrical hookups was full so we parked in the lot of a Fred Meyer store (along with several other rigs). The next morning we moved to Auke Bay RV Park which by then had some vacancies. Asking a few questions got us pointed in the right direction to find the brewery and Marci. We arrived on their bottling day and so had a good tour of the plant. Marci is the daughter of my cousin, Betty Bradley, from Franklin, NC. After work she took us on a tour of the city and surrounding area, pointing out the important spots. At the end of the tour Geoff met us for dinner at the Breakwater Inn, and afterward we went out to their home overlooking Gastineau Inlet. Marci also arranged a boat trip for us to Tracy Arm Fjord, an all day excursion to the foot of a glacier.
On Sunday we attended a Presbyterian church called the Chapel on the Lake. At the front of the church a picture window looked out across a lake with Mendenhall Glacier and the snow covered mountains beyond. The scene was so gorgeous, it was difficult to listen to the sermon. The people there were exceptionally friendly too. In the afternoon we drove over to the foot of the glacier and walked as close as we could to edge. As large chunks of ice broke off the leading edge they crowded into the lake as ice bergs. The spot on the glacier left after a chunk breaks off (called calving) is a deep blue color. Mendenhall River runs from the lake out to the sea. What a different scene from anything we'd been used to!
Mendenhall Glacier is one of many "rivers of ice" in southeast Alaska, flowing down from the Juneau Icefield high in the mountains. This icefield encompasses about 1,500 square miles. Annual snowfall on the icefield is about 100 feet. The temperature inside the glacier is not extreme, usually 30 or 31 degrees Fahrenheit, but the pressure is enormous, changing the crystalline structure of the ice and allowing it to flow gradually down to the sea. Mendenhall formed during the Little Ice Age about 3,000 years ago and is about 12 miles long. It flows about two feet per day. The front edge of the glacier has been receding since 1750, moving back about 2.5 miles since then.
Marci and Geoff invited us on the maiden voyage of their new skiff. So, at 4:00pm we launched into the harbor and headed toward Taku Inlet. Forty-five minutes later we landed at an isolated beach near the mouth of the inlet. Anchoring the boat just off shore, we waded in with a cooler of drinks and sandwiches for picnic on the rocky shore. They had been there several times before after a long paddle in their kayak, but this was a first under power. Bald eagles were all around us in the trees and flying out across the water. In fact there was very little sound other than the slap of the waves and the high pitched squeaking of the eagles. It was a peaceful and beautiful setting with the mountains all around.
After a relaxing hour or more on the beach, we waded out to the boat and headed toward home. All went well for a while until the main engine ran out of gas. No problem. We cranked up the little trolling motor, and though it was slow, we were again under way. Then, it too ran out of gas. While pulling the cranking handle trying to get it started, Geoff got a sock in the face when I pulled a little too energetically. He gallantly insisted that it didn't hurt. After overcoming that, we drained a few ounces of gas left in the main tank through a makeshift funnel made from a "baggy" into the small engine and got it started again. By now, the sun was dipping low, dark was approaching, and all aboard were beginning to worry a bit. A boat passed on the other side of the channel that Geoff recognized as belonging to friends, but they failed to see the frantic waves of Marci and Geoff. The little engine kept putt-putting along though, and soon we reached a house and pulled up to the beach. Geoff, holding an ice pack on his rapidly swelling eye, walked up to scrounge a little gas while Marci walked a mile to a friend's house to borrow a car. She drove Ann and I into town while Geoff limped on home with the boat. The shakedown cruise was a learning experience, and I'm sure that on their next outing they'll have a spare gas tank, some oars, an extra anchor, maybe a VHF radio, and a few other choice accessories. Despite the trouble we had a good time and a good visit with a lively and charming couple.
June 14, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157720
The boat trip to Tracy Arm Fjord was probably the best excursion of that sort we had ever been on. The weather was perfect with clear skies and little wind. The tour boat was a catamaran with two 700 hp Diesel engines. It had comfortable seating with large clean picture windows all around on two levels. The upper level seating was in the same room with the bridge, so the captain was right there with us. Never have I seen such an array of modern electronic navigation gear. But the amenities of the boat were not what made the tour a super event. It was the unique and outstanding scenery. The trip took us about 65 miles south of Juneau down the Gastineau Inlet and into Tracy Arm Fjord. The fjord itself was about 25 miles long becoming narrower as we approached South Sawyer Glacier at the end. The first forty miles in Gastineau Inlet was beautiful, yet was the same type scenery we had seen earlier on the ferry trip. But when we turned into Tracy Arm that began to change. We immediately began to pass a few small ice bergs that had broken off the glacier and floated with the wind and tide to the mouth. The further we progressed into the fjord the thicker were the ice bergs. The sonar equipment on the boat allowed the captain to run at full cruising speed through the ice. As the canyon narrowed the mountains that walled it in became higher, the taller ones rising 3,000 feet above the water. Occasional water falls appeared on the sides.
None of this prepared us for what was to come at the end, however. A quarter mile from the end we rounded a bend to see this magnificent glacier with an almost solid float of ice in front of it. The ice was peppered with seals and their newborn pups. Easing in to prevent spooking them, the captain got us close enough for some good picture taking. Many of the seals were sliding off the ice into the water and back on again, coaxing their young to follow them. As we watched, a big hunk of ice fell off the glacier with a resounding crack into the water. The resulting wave rocked the boat even though we were probably five hundred yards away. Getting pictures of the calving phenomenon proved difficult. By the time the noise arrived it was too late to get the camera turned and focused on the action. I started leaving the camera in recording mode, taking many feet with nothing happening and finally caught a good one. Lamar had pointed to a large hunk of ice that seemed to be on the verge of teetering, and I focused on it. In a few seconds it came tumbling down with a huge roar and splash, recorded for posterity in my little picture maker.
After several minutes of open mouthed awe at what we were seeing, the boat started the return trip. We stopped at another glacier called the North Sawyer Glacier. We saw no calving there, but a huge chunk of the glacier had obviously fallen not long before, and was floating as an ice berg perhaps a 1,000 yards out from the glacier foot. It was a deep blue color due to the extreme pressure of the glacier ice. We were told that despite the enormity of this ice berg, we were only seeing about 10 percent of the mass.
Back out in the main channel, the captain began looking for whales. After several minutes two humpbacks were spotted off the starboard bow, and we eased over to have a look. Getting video of them was about as difficult as with the calving of the glacier, but using the same procedure of leaving the camera on, I did get some good footage. Eighty percent of the footage taken will have to be edited out, but there should be some dramatic shots left.
We arrived back in Juneau about 5:00pm, some nine hours after we cast off in the morning. As I said earlier, this was one of the most worthwhile excursions ever, and Lamar expressed all of our sentiments, saying, "This is what I came to Alaska to see!" It was the highlight of the trip, at least to this point.
June 15, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157850
With Lamar suffering from a painful case of shingles, nobody did much on the day after our boat trip to the Tracy Arm. We did drive about 30 miles out to the end of the pavement on Highway 7 north of Juneau. The road skirts the coastline and affords some outstanding views from high above the water. At one point overlooking a secluded cove we saw about 25 bald eagles out over the water apparently looking for fish. Occasionally one or two would leave the flock and fly over to perch in the uppermost branches of a Sitka spruce tree. There were a number of younger birds in the group that didn't yet have the distinctive white heads and tails of the mature ones. We learned at the Alaskan Museum that they are five to seven years old before getting those characteristic colors. Fireweed and other wild flowers along the roadway made the drive a nice one.
June 16, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157900
After Marci showed us how to get to the Perseverance Trail, it was only a matter of working out a time to do the hiking. So the Rays and Bergs began the hike on Wednesday morning. The streets of Juneau go higher up the mountain as they progress inland. They run out high above the waterfront where a gravel road continues around the mountainside and on up further to the trailhead. Ebner Falls was our destination as we started hiking, about one mile into the rain forest. The trail winds through dense forest and thick undergrowth with wild flowers of many varieties all around. This trail was once a wagon road in the days when Perseverance Mine was in operation. The adits of several mine shafts dot the mountainside. At one, the air was coming out in an icy draft. We were told that the mountain was honeycombed with mine shafts. Along the trail there was evidence in many spots of old mining equipment and buildings used when they were mining for gold in the early part of this century.
Ebner Falls proved to be another beautiful waterfall, and above the falls we did some rockhounding in the creek. We saw some tiny flakes of gold in the gravel of the creek bottom, but had no way of trying to collect it.
Back near the trailhead, there was a salmon bake going on - cost: $24.00 per person. We elected to forego that experience in favor of driving back into Juneau for lunch at the Fiddlehead Restaurant. Prices were still pretty steep. We had some chicken chunks on a croissant bun for $10.00 each.
On the way back out to Auke Bay, we stopped at the fish hatchery where we got the story of the salmon life cycle. Five varieties of salmon are hatched there and held until the small fish can survive in salt water. With some varieties, including the king, this means holding the fish for about a year. They are then released into Gastineau Inlet and turned loose to swim free. The remarkable thing is that about four years later the same fish return to swim and jump up a fish ladder into the hatchery tanks in the same building where they were born. They expect about two million fish to return this way, about two percent of those released. The return begins in the last week of June and continues for two or three weeks, then it's over. Roe and sperm are taken from the fish, and the process is started over. A great deal of knowledge about the habits of these fish was essential to designing this facility. Tanks of the proper size, water flow with the correct temperature, salinity, and velocity, pumps, pipes, and chutes to move the fish around all had to be incorporated in the design. The fish are no longer edible after they release their eggs, so they have to be dumped back into water for predators to eat. The income to sustain the facility comes from tourists like us who pay to see the plant and hear the story. They also get a subsidy from the association of salmon fishermen, but it is a non-profit venture, established to insure the continued existence of the salmon. Quite a story!
On Wednesday evening we joined Marci and Geoff for dinner at Mike's Place on Douglas. Their friends Win and Maggie Germain were there also. Marci spoke of Win and Maggie as their surrogate parents during the first years they were in Juneau. They were also Marci's landlords in their first rented apartment. The Germains have been in Juneau since 1956 and had some interesting stories to tell.
June 17, 1993
Odometer @ Start:157925
The rains that are supposed to be typical of Juneau finally came on Thursday. A planned fishing trip with Geoff had to be cancelled because of the weather. After a lazy day, the whole gang went to the Larsons for an early dinner. Geoff barbecued some king salmon and boiled some shrimp for a feast. Then we played cards while enjoying the fantastic view from their living room across the water to the mountains on Douglas Island. Bald eagles were flying close in to land in the tall spruce trees next to the house, and humming birds were swooping in to drink their nectar on the porch. Even with the rain, the view was outstanding.
Lamar is still suffering from his case of shingles. I'm sure he doesn't appreciate being accused of having the mange, but that's what it resembles. The right side of his head is a mess. He remains optimistic that it will soon be over.
June 18, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158000
We checked out the old Treadwell mine on Douglas where gold was mined in huge quantities in the early part of this century. The Bureau of Mines now has a research facility at the site. Where 2,000 men once worked, there now is nothing but ruins. While the men worked in extremely tough conditions, when they were off duty they had some uncommonly nice facilities like tennis courts, a gymnasium, game rooms, and a swimming pool. The mine shafts once went under the Gastineau channel, but in 1917 there was a cave in, and sea water flooded the entire system. Miraculously, no one was killed, but although gold is still in there, the mine never re-opened. We walked a trail through a dense rain forest (in the rain) to the "glory hole" where the final processing was done. The hole is now a broad body of water 75 to 100 feet down a steep embankment, mostly surrounded by a thick growth of trees and bushes . It must have been used for the city dump for a while. One side was filled with wrecked cars and debris.
The dense growth of trees and shrubs in the Juneau area continued to amaze. The area abounds in all sorts of wild flowers - buttercups, forget-me-nots, lupine, fireweed, wild roses, goat's beard, columbine, and many more. A walk through the woods evokes more thought of a tropical rain forest than a land of the far north.
June 19, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158020
Five minutes by helicopter from the tropical greenery around the city of Juneau are the Juneau Icefields with an ocean of whiteness stretching as far as one can see broken only by occasional dark and jagged mountain peaks. Any doubt as to why there is no road to Juneau is forever put aside when one sees this immense mountain range and field of glaciers. With no tour boats in port on Saturday, Ann and I had the helicopter and pilot to ourselves for an hour's flight with a landing on Mendenhall Glacier and a fifteen minute walk there. It was another world entirely. These glaciers are moving at the rate of about two feet per day, flowing slowly down to the sea and carrying tons of rock down with them. There are delicate features to the glacier too. Something as small as a leaf lying on the surface absorbs enough heat from the sun to melt through the ice forming a little cavity shaped exactly like the leaf still sitting at the bottom. In another place a piece of granite which probably weighed a couple of tons was balanced atop a small pinnacle of ice. Running water from the snow melt carves intricate patterns along the glacier surface and then bores its way into the glacier forming a hole that can be hundreds of feet deep. In other places the clear blue water was pooled in fanciful shaped cavities, some the size of small lakes.
Mendenhall Glacier is itself twelve miles long and about a mile and a half wide. But other glaciers feed into it which extends the impression of hugeness as the Juneau Icefields seem to stretch out forever to the horizon. This could never be penetrated by a road. The only way a road will ever reach the Juneau is possibly along the shoreline of the Lynn Canal from Skagway, and that looks pretty formidable too.
Jay and I found some time on Saturday afternoon to drive out to Eagle River and pan for gold. We found color, but it was just small flakes, too small to pick up and collect. We spotted a large, slow moving porcupine in the bushes, thinking at first that we were being watched by a bear. The animal was up in the bush about head high.
On Sunday, we went back to the little Presbyterian Chapel on the Lake, then drove into Juneau for lunch at the Prospector Hotel for Father's Day.
Juneau is quite a place. It is easy to see why Marci and Geoff have chosen to invest their lives here. In addition to the magnificent scenery, there is the almost unlimited expanse of water and shoreline to explore and fish. There's mountains to climb, trails to hike, and a pervasive sense of freedom about it all. There also seems to be a lack of crime in the area and a sense of friendliness and trust among the people. The Larsons have never felt it necessary to lock the door to their house. It is an understatement to merely say that we enjoyed our stay, but all things must end.
Sitka is next ----
June 20, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158200
On Sunday night we joined Marcy and Geoff on the waterfront at the Perseverance Theatre to see the "Lady Lou Revue," a play based on two Robert Service poems: "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." The playwriters did a good job weaving together a story of the Klondyke gold rush that merged the themes of those two ballads, and the actors did their parts well. We had front row seats thanks to Marcy and her tickets.
June 21, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158210
This was the day of solstice, the longest day of the year. In Alaska that is very meaningful, because the day started at 4:00am and did not end until 11:30pm. Further north around Fairbanks we understand that the sun never sets on the day of solstice, thus making Alaska the "land of the midnight sun."
I went with Marcy and Geoff on their skiff to check their new crab pots which they had set on the Douglas side of Gastineau Inlet. After releasing the small ones and females we had fifteen large Dungeness crabs with which to prepare supper. And what a treat that was! The meal was shared with their friends, Brad and Jen Weinlaeder, another delightful couple. Ann even enjoyed the crabs. It was a special treat on our last evening in Juneau before setting sail to Sitka.
June 22, 1993
Odometer @ Start:15820
With our rigs left behind in Auke Bay, we boarded the ferry to Sitka on foot, carrying all that we needed for the short stay in a back pack. Frances and Lamar decided to forego this trip to give him some more recovery time. It was a nine hour trip down the Inside Passage through more outstanding mountain scenery. The last three hours of the trip were through narrow channels. One bear was spotted near the water, and there were scores of bald eagles.
Sitka is the old capital of Alaska, the center of Russian culture before the time of American control. Russian influence began in 1799 when the first Russians sailed in seeking the pelts of the sea otter. They ran into conflict almost immediately by ruthlessly trying to enslave the Tlingit Indians. Fighting continued until the Indians were overwhelmed in 1802. Sitka then became the capital of Russian Alaska and the center for Russian fur trade. Known as the "Paris of the Pacific," and called New Archangel by the Russians, it was a source of great wealth for them __ for a while. However, they had no concern for overhunting, and soon brought the sea otter to near extinction. In 1867, with the fur source depleted, the Russians sold their claims to Alaska to the United States, but evidence of the Russian presence still exists. The onion domed cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church still dominates the skyline of Sitka, and other old buildings have a Russian look to them. Sitka, located on the seaward side of Barinof Island, is another city that can only be accessed by boat or plane.
On Marcy's suggestion we made contact with Jim and Bernadine McGinnis who operate a bed and breakfast at their home called the Creek's Edge Guest House. It was a couple of miles from downtown, but very nice, and they offered warm hospitality. We caught a bus in to Creek's Edge from the ferry terminal, checked in, then caught a taxi to town. The museums and shops were closing as we arrived, so we walked around the harbor and watched the eagles soar until dinner time. Again, at Marcy's suggestion, we sought out the Channel Club for an excellent meal, then returned to our rooms for the night.
After breakfast of eggs-benedict, we again made our way to town, starting our sightseeing at the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center. Not knowing quite what to expect there, we were pleasantly surprised to learn about what they were doing. This was a facility for caring for injured bald eagles, about half of which are treated and returned to freedom. We learned that there was an unfortunate period of our history when the government actually paid a bounty for every eagle killed. This resulted in wanton killing of America's national bird, and made them an endangered species. Now, they are protected by law. It is even illegal to have possession of an eagle feather. It takes about five years for an eagle to reach maturity, and they can live up to fifty years. Their comeback has been remarkable around Sitka. At one point when the tide was low, we saw a great flock of them circling at the shoreline. One male bird, named Buddy, allowed himself to be held and shown off to the spectators. "Raptor" means bird of prey.
From the Raptor Center we walked to Totem National Historical Park, and took a path through a dense rain forest to the shoreline where unique totem poles of the Tlingits serve as reminders that these native Americans were in this land long before the white man. This 100 acre park is also a sanctuary for many indigenous plants and wildlife. There was a cultural center for Indian art and a museum which told much about Alaskan history.
After a short walk back to the downtown area, we made our way to the Centennial Building. At 11:00am a group called the New Archangel dancers gave a 30 minute performance of Russian dances to the delight of the tourists. People off the Rotterdam cruise ship filled the auditorium.
A visit to the Russian Orthodox Church, which has become the symbol of the city, was next. It is still an active church, but seemed to be more oriented toward tourism than religion. From there we walked to the Russian Bishops house and then to the Sheldon Jackson Museum. A collection of artifacts, probably unequaled anywhere else in Alaska, was displayed there. Things were on display from the four distinct native groups in Alaska: The Tlingits from the southeast, the Athabaskans from the interior, the Aleuts from the western islands, and the Eskimos from the west coast and Arctic regions. The advanced culture of these people was quite surprising. Their tools and weaponry and artwork were quite sophisticated. Sheldon Jackson was an early Presbyterian missionary who had a boundless energy and love for the native people. Although the museum is now owned by the State of Alaska, most of the artifacts in the museum were collected by Rev. Jackson before 1900.
After lunch, Jay and I walked across a high bridge to a good vantage point for pictures of Sitka, then climbed Castle Hill where the ceremonial changing of the flags took place when control of Alaska passed from the Russians to the Americans. That transfer of power was viewed by many in the U.S. as "Seward's Folly." To a nation reeling from the after effects of bloody civil war, it is understandable why many thought that spending 7.2 million dollars for a remote place like Alaska was folly. Alaska was largely ignored for the first fifty years under U.S. control. It was not until World War II when Japan had designs on Alaska, that we really began to appreciate its value. Now, what a bargain that $7.2 million has become! From Castle Hill we walked back into town to find the girls.
We left Sitka with a new appreciation of Alaska and a good impression of the city. Sitka's harbor is dotted with small islands spreading out as far as the eye can see. To anyone with a boat, it would be an unending world to explore. We had stashed our gear at the fire department to avoid carrying everything around town all day, so we now had to retrieve it before boarding a bus back to the ferry. The ferry was late as usual, and we were an hour late leaving Sitka. Then, it was an all night ride back to Juneau.
June 24, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158235
Caught up on sleep after the ferry ride, we had a last meal with Marcy and Geoff at the Fiddlehead Restaurant near the wharf at Juneau. We had such a good time with them, it was a little sad to say "Good-Bye." They made our two week stay in Juneau a special time to remember and inspired this:
Marcy and Geoff make a tasty brew.
They call it Alaskan, plain and true.
Now they live in Juneau, the city of rain.
It can only be accessed by boat or by plane.
Near the foot of a glacier, called Mendenhall,
Marcy keeps her door open for one and for all.
Geoff does the cookin' with a gourmet's touch,
Salmon and crab legs and shrimp and such.
He has a new skiff that he tends with great pride,
Down the Gastineau channel he gave us a ride.
At an inlet called Taku we waded ashore,
Not a care in the world for the worries in store.
The spot was the greatest, in perfect seclusion,
The call of the eagles, the only intrusion.
As in came the tide, near nine at night,
We cast off for home, yet in broad daylight.
With four miles to go, and well off the coast,
The engine sputtered and gave up the ghost.
No problem, said Geoff, we've got not a care.
Not all little skiffs have an engine to spare.
Under way once again, though now a bit slower,
We eased toward the shoreline and looked for an oar.
With the sun going down, not a care for our need,
The search for a paddle proved fruitless indeed.
In a minute that motor would also die,
But not before Geoff got a sock in the eye.
We scrounged a few drops of gas from the tin,
And with that got the little guy going again.
We were making our way, all aflutter with worry,
As the stout little engine refused to hurry.
Twenty feet from shore and to Geoff's deep chagrin,
The starved little engine went dead again.
But there near the beach was the home of a friend.
So we coasted on in, and this story did end.
Geoff borrowed some gas and all else went quite well,
And now we have a great story to tell.
June 25, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158260
The ferry left Juneau about noon for Haines and the next leg of our journey. Lamar and I had the last vehicles to be loaded, and we had to back in on the side. The Lynn Canal looked different on the northbound trip. the mountains if anything, more massive. It was a four hour trip. We checked into the Haines Hitch-Up RV Park just west of town, hurried to the Post Office for an eagerly awaited mail drop, then relaxed for the rest of the day. It was great to hear from so many of our friends.
Frances has become a great traveller, and since I'm in a rhyming mood, the following seems appropriate for the occasion:
Now Frances was a farmer's daughter,
Chased Lamar until he caught 'er.
Little knowing when she left the farm,
She'd go from Capital Reef to Tracy Arm
But oh the sights that she has seen,
Along life's path and in between.
Now they're in their forty-fifth year,
And she's in Alaska, the last frontier.
She once had a fear of all that floats,
from catamarans to ferry boats.
But now she says, "I think I can,"
and rides the waves like a sailor man.
She likes little kittens and shopping malls,
or a walk in the woods where the water falls.
She'll run barefoot in a field fresh plowed,
And sing the Crawdad song to a crowd.
When she wins at spades she's accused of cheating
When losing there's a word we can't be repeating.
She makes up rules as she goes along,
Like "A card laid is a card played," so goes the song.
She dislikes hamburger and cheese and such,
But bring on the ice cream, if it's hard to the touch.
She cooks for and waits on Lamar, that's her hubby,
And keeps him happy, fat and chubby.
She'll remember the good times when her eyes start to fail her,
When she took to the highways in her Airstream trailer.
And when her time comes, in that final hour,
She'll probably jump up to pick a wildflower.
Now life on the road's not so bad after all,
As long as its Spring, Summer, or even Fall.
But when Winter rolls in and the cold winds come,
Frances will say, "There's no place like home."
June 26, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158300
An early morning drive out past the Haines Ferry Terminal to Chilkoot Lake on Saturday morning was rewarding. With the sky clear and wind calm, the lake was a mirror surrounded by dark evergreens, reflecting the snow capped mountain skyline. Bald eagles perched on rocks and in trees at the water's edge were alert for any fish that got too near the surface. They all spooked before I could get a good picture however. Some folks in the campground told us they were catching Dolly Varden trout in the lake, but I saw no evidence of it. The campground in Chilkoot Lake State Park looked good with many sites right on the lake.
We tried our hand at fishing in Chilkoot Lake on Saturday afternoon, without success, learning later that the tide was wrong. Salmon in the early stages of their run come in on the high tide, and we caught it low. But it was still a pretty place to be.
Haines is at the end of Chilkat Valley where the valley, bordered with huge snow covered peaks, meets the Lynn Canal. Tlingit natives were the first known humans in residence there. Haines got its name from a Presbyterian dignitary, Mrs. F.E. Haines, who was secretary of the Presbyterian Home Mission Board in 1879 when naturalist John Muir and missionary S. Hall Young first got the natives to agree to a mission. Though a staunch supporter of the mission to the Tlingits, Mrs. Haines was never able to visit the town that bears her name.
Haines was chosen in 1903 as the site of the first permanent outpost of the U.S. Army in the territory of Alaska and served as a supply depot during World War II. The fort was named for William H. Seward, Secretary of State during the Lincoln administration. It was Seward who was primarily responsible for the purchase of Alaska. Decommissioned after World War II, the unusual and stately old buildings of the fort now serve as homes, hotels, and cultural attractions.
To absorb some local culture, we visited the Raven Theater where the Chilkat Dancers performed near Fort Seward. They danced out many old Tlingit legends. These traditionally costumed dancers are working to preserve the Tlingit heritage through their art. The most impressive of the dances was the blanket dance using blankets woven by the native artists ninety years ago. The old ways of weaving are essentially now lost, and these blankets are irreplaceable. We were told that each blanket is insured for $20,000. The Chilkats were a sub-division of the Tlingit nation and were among the more prosperous of the Alaskan Indians.
June 27, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158360
The Chilkat Valley boasts the world's largest concentration of bald eagles. Lamar and I took a jet boat tour in the valley to the upper reaches of the Chilkat River through an area designated an eagle preserve. The largest gathering of eagles occurs in the fall and winter when chum salmon come to spawn in the river. There were still supposed to be a few eagles around during the summer, but we saw only a few. We did see seven nests, tremendous things high up in cottonwood trees. The eagles use the same nest over and over, adding more sticks and vegetation to them each year. Nests have been weighed at over a thousand pounds.
Upriver we found some of the wildest looking country imaginable. Our boat went down narrow channels with tree limbs hanging nearly across and into clear water lakes. We heard stories and saw sign of bear and moose, but saw none. But we did see spectacular countryside with hanging glaciers on the mountainsides. The swift running river, fed by melting glaciers, was milky with silt. The silt collects in bars which move around and change the course of the river. We stopped at one silt bar and got out while our guide set up a telescope to scan the mountainsides for goats. He had earlier spotted a herd of thirty- two goats, but this time found only four. Jumping out of the boat I sank knee deep in the silt before learning that you have to walk on it very gingerly. The high powered telescope brought the goats into focus like we were right next to them, although they were near the top of a 6,000 foot mountain.
At the beginning of the trip we went down river a short way to see the remains of a movie set where Jack London's "White Fang" was filmed. From there we turned upstream and ran against the current for about twenty-two miles, then pulled over to the side for a lunch of smoked salmon and crackers. A cow moose and her calf had left their prints in the sand since the previous afternoon, but were not around to be seen. The return trip was much more rapid as we were running with the river. Our guide had been running the river for twenty-eight years and knew all the channels. He slowed the boat only at places where he wanted to point out something special. At one point he stopped at a gill net that had been placed across the mouth of a small stream to check for fish. The one small salmon caught in the mesh indicated that the big sockeye run had not yet started. Three hours later we were back at the boat landing near the Haines Highway and, tired but happy, we headed home.
June 28, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158375
The Haines Highway from the Canadian border north to Haines Junction is almost entirely above the tree line and was a first class highway. The scenery brought back memories of the Trail Ridge Road in Colorado. We were surrounded by the snow covered mountains, green meadows, mountain lakes, and fast moving streams. These were the mountains of the Kluane range, part of Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory.
At Haines Junction we were reminded of the value of our CB radios. After watching a slide presentation about Kluane National Park, we split up to buy gas at different stations. Then the Rays mistakenly took off the wrong way toward Whitehorse. But for the CBs, we would have probably seen them again some time in the fall. The error was quickly corrected though, and we headed to the northwest, back on the Alaskan Highway. The road was bad again, but the scenery compensated for the rough ride. We dry camped for the night on the shore of beautiful Kluane Lake. Another try at fishing proved unsuccessful. This lake was so clear that the fish were probably down there looking up at us with a gleeful smile. The wind picked up during the night, coming down off the icefields with a decided chill factor. It also kicked up waves on the lake that sounded like we were parked on the beach in Florida, making for some good sleeping.
June 29, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158560
We've been on some rough roads before __ in Nova Scotia, in western New York, in Michigan. But none of these come close to the roughness of the Alaskan Highway in the Yukon Territory between Kluane Lake and the U.S. border. It took eight hours to drive 248 miles. At the end of the day the insides of the trailers were a shambles. We lost two cabinet doors, and the strap broke on the bathroom door. Our clock was on the floor along with books, chairs, maps, and everything else not tied down. A little star on our windshield caused by a rock back in Whitehorse became a long crack. The Rays lost a shelf full of canned goods and a number of dishes. The Cockrells had a flat tire on their trailer caused by a sharp rock. By the time we got to Tok, Alaska everyone was ready to collapse with fatigue. On other roads the scenery was some compensation for the roughness, but not this one. The scenery was mostly flat, with an abundance of spindly looking evergreens for vegetation. Apparently the permafrost allows nothing to grow that needs a deep root. To make matters worse, traffic picked up considerably. We were in a line of RVs of all descriptions that stretched for miles.
A fire in 1990 burned off about 100,000 acres of forest near Tok, and only with heroic effort by the townspeople was the town saved. If there was anything of beauty on this day it was the wildflowers along the road that blanketed the burned out forest floor. The pink and purple fireweed stretched out as far as the eye could see.
Tok, Alaska is a road junction town of about 1200 people doing all they can to tap the tourist dollar, and it's working. For most people coming up the Alaskan Highway, Tok is the first Alaskan town they come to. This was the furthest north we had been so far. The first RV Park we stopped at was full, but they were kind enough to find us another. We had a delicious meal at the Gateway Salmon Bake which was managed in a unique way. We paid at a window, got a ticket to hand to the cook at an outdoor grill, then went to another building for a run at their salad bar while waiting for the cook. When he was ready he rang a dinner bell and called over a PA system, "Ann & Walter from Florida, come and get it!" I had a combination dinner of halibut, salmon, and reindeer sausage. Later we watched a sled dog exhibition ___ three huskies pulling a dogsled rigged with wheels down the street. The exhibition was free, put on to attract people to a local gift shop and listen to a pioneer lady trying to sell her books.
June 30, 1993
Odometer @ Start:158810
From Tok we left the Alaskan Highway again, heading south to Valdez and the coast. The first half of the trip was not much better than the previous day. Mount Sanford did provide some respite to the otherwise dull scenery. Solid white with snow and at an elevation of 16,000 feet, it was an awesome sight even though thirty miles away. But, the last thirty-five miles of the trip made all the discomfort of the previous two days worthwhile. It was gorgeous beyond expectations. The road curved around the Worthington Glacier, through an icefield and Thompson Pass, then plunged down through Keystone Canyon past magnificent waterfalls to Valdez and Prince William Sound. Surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains, the Port of Valdez is as pretty a seaport as any we've seen. It is the northernmost deep water port in the U.S.A. free of ice year around.
Valdez is home of the Alyeska Pipeline Marine Terminal, the southern end of the trans-Alaskan oil pipeline. From here tankers pick up crude oil 365 days a year, oil that entered the pipeline 800 miles away on Alaska's North Slope oil field. The oil flows down the pipeline at the rate of 88,000 barrels an hour.
July 1, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159070
We started our tour of the 1,000 acre oil terminal at 9:30am when picked up by a bus at the Valdez Airport. Security was tight to insure no saboteurs among us. Our tour guide was a young lady that had been at it for five years and really knew her facts. As the bus climbed the switchbacks through the terminal facilities we learned the workings of the four berths where tankers load up with oil. I was intrigued with the thing they call the "pig." This is a cylindrical device about five feet long and a little smaller in diameter than the inside of the pipeline. Periodically it is put into the line at Prudhoe Bay and allowed to flow with the oil to Valdez cleaning the inside surface of the pipe as it goes along. As it reaches each pumping station, sensors open by-pass valves which route the device around the pump.
At the top of the hill above the terminal we were allowed to get off the bus for a beautiful panoramic view of the terminal facility. The city of Valdez could be clearly seen across the harbor. The tour lasted about two hours and was made all the more interesting by our vivacious guide.
Back in Valdez we watched an hour-long film about the 1964 earthquake that destroyed Valdez as it then existed. Many of the movie sequences came from the camera of a sailor aboard a freighter that rode out the emptying of the harbor and the devastating tidal wave that followed. The present city of Valdez has all been built since 1964. It is about a mile away from the old townsite.
Anchorage is next......
July 2, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159247
On the way to Anchorage we passed through an area called the "Drunken Forest."
It was more of the little spindly spruce trees, but instead of being erect and at attention the trees were skewed every way but straight. It must have been something about the soil that allowed them to twist and turn that way when a wind came along. A large moose near the side of the road was plundering in a garbage container. The last part of the trip was through mountainous country as rugged as any we've seen. From Palmer to Anchorage the roads were good, and we felt like we'd returned to civilization. The golden arches of McDonalds and other fast food places lined the road in Palmer. Gasoline prices returned to normal also - from $1.52 in Juneau to $1.08 in Anchorage.
There were a couple of minor mishaps. The Rays had a flat tire on their trailer, ruining the tire before they could find a place to stop. Then, backing into his campsite, the trailer jack-knifed and pushed in the back window of their pickup. We killed a set of shock absorbers, and our trailer batteries failed. We also started having refrigerator problems. But in Anchorage there was plenty of service facilities to get things in shape again. We've now got 50% more battery capacity than before.
Anchorage is located at the end of Cook Inlet on the southern coast. It is a rail center as well as a port city. The population of 250,000 is almost half the population of all of Alaska. The downtown area is very nice, decorated with thousands of beautiful flowers. The streets were wide, the street lights had hanging flower baskets, and there were lots of people. There were also slum areas and a large number of street people, some obviously inebriated. We were told that alcoholism is a greater problem in Alaska than elsewhere because of the lack of things to do during winter seasons.
On a rainy Sunday morning we found a Lutheran church for services, then went to a museum and took in a wide screen movie about Alaska.
July 5, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159500
Portage Glacier is about 45 miles from Anchorage along a road that skirts Turnagain Arm. Turnaround is an arm of the sea named by Captain Cook when he found that he had to turn around again. We drove to a spot which was filled with ice bergs, then took a boat across a lake to the foot of the glacier. Had we not already taken the trip in Juneau to Tracy Arm Fjord, this would have been much more impressive. It was still an unusual sight, but we saw no calving, nor did we see any wildlife. On the way home we spotted some Dall sheep on the rocky face of the mountain above the highway.
The Rays left us to get a head start on fishing. Their plan was to hunt a fishing spot along the Kenai River on the way to Homer while we went on down to Seward.
July 6, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159615
We spent most of Tuesday in the parking lot of an RV repair shop getting a new refrigerator. The rebuilt coil that I bought 4 years ago died, leaving us without refrigeration. It was either buy a new refrigerator, order a new coil from Seattle, or do without until we got home. Weighing the alternatives, we opted for the new refrigerator, but it hurt the pocketbook. No way to know whether the rough roads caused it, or if it was ready to go anyway.
Once we got moving, we drove down to Seward along one of the prettiest routes in Alaska. The road skirts Turnagain Arm then enters the Kenai Peninsula. Although we never got above an altitude of 1,200 feet we might have been in the Alps. The high country meadows, huge snow- capped mountains, alpine lakes and streams, were outstanding.
A small community of 2,500, Seward is about 120 miles to the southeast of Anchorage, on Resurrection Bay. The picturesque boat harbor is backdropped by a high mountain range. On the dock a crew of 8 or 10 professional fish cleaners were attacking a large number of fish brought in by the charter boats. Most of the catch was king salmon, but there was also halibut and cod. One halibut laying on the dock weighed in at 176 pounds. These fish cleaners were paid by the tourists to clean their catch. Other enterprises froze it, packed it in dry ice, and arranged for UPS shipment back home. Canneries were available to cook and can the salmon. The shoreline of the bay was lined with RVs, all there to participate in the salmon run.
Seward is the gateway city to Kenai Fjords National Park. The park includes a wide spectrum of environments, including ice fields, wilderness, unnamed waterfalls, unexplored canyons, glaciers, and a coastline that is home to thousands of seabirds and mammals, best seen by boat.
July 7, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159700
The fjords of Kenai Fjords National Park are teeming with marine life. Steller sea lions hauled themselves out of the water on the rocky Chiswell Islands. Porpoises, sea otter, whales, harbor seals, and thousands of birds, not to mention the fish, were all around our tour boat. The weather was perfect as we left the dock with blue skies and clear air. I was especially interested in getting some pictures of puffin birds and got a few, but the highlight of the day, maybe the whole trip, was the show put on by a humpback whale.
Our captain got a call from a friend that a humpback had gone bonkers about ten miles from where we were, so that's where we headed. As we drew close, we could see this wild splashing and only hoped that whatever it was would continue until we got there. When we arrived the whale breached probably fifteen times within a hundred yards of the boat sending out spray fifty feet in all directions. It rolled several times waving its flippers and slapping the water. It was an unusual display. The captain said that in his eight years on the run, he had never seen anything like it.
We knew the wildlife was going to be active when, as we left the Seward Harbor, we saw a harbor seal catch a salmon and shake it to death above the water. A bald eagle was sunning himself on a channel marker waiting for his turn at the fish. Seagulls were diving for fish in a frenzy. Dall porpoises were playing tag with the boat. A sea otter was paddling along on his back, then two more. They let the boat come right up to them before disappearing beneath the waves. We saw our first whale a half hour into the trip, but he was merely blowing at the surface and showing only the upper part of his body in a slow roll.
Birds were everywhere, including the little puffins with their orange colored beaks. They would be floating around on the water until the boat got close, then would take off in a panic trying desperately to get up enough speed for a takeoff. Some were so gorged with fish that they never made it up, flopping back down on the waves or diving to swim underwater. Others, once air borne, flew like a streak across the sky. There were tufted puffins and horned puffins. During the nesting season, they sit on little ledges on the rocks protruding from the water, but all we saw were in the water or flying. There were many other species of birds, but aside from the sea gulls, I could not identify them.
The view of the mountainous islands surrounded by the calm sea was stunning. The whole scene was against a background of snow covered mountains on the skyline. The crew of the boat told us that this was their best day in a month.
We next motored to the face of Holgate Glacier, a huge receding tidewater glacier that was actively calving. The bay in front of it was clogged with ice. Working his way in among the ice bergs, the captain got us to within about three hundred yards of the face where I got some good video of the calving. The thunderous noise made by those huge hunks of ice falling to the water was something! The cold wind coming down off the ice had the water quite choppy, and had some awe-struck tourists running for more clothes.
The Steller sea lions are on the endangered species list and can only be seen at a few spots, the Chiswell Islands being one of them. This was the last stop on the boat tour. There were a hundred or so animals on the rocks ranging in size from 1,000 pound males to little newborn pups. Others were swimming around at the base of the rocks. These animals were named for Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German born eighteenth century naturalist that sailed with Vitas Bering, the Russian explorer who "discovered" Alaska. A number of animals around the Alaskan sea coast have been given his name.
Some 580,000 acres of this region were set aside as a Kenai Fjords National Park in 1980. The natural beauty was something to behold! There is one poorly maintained road into the park about seven miles long. Otherwise, the only way to see it is by water or by air, or by hiking a few trails that penetrate the forests. Because of the abundant wildlife and the show put on by the whale, this trip put Tracy Arm in second place for the highlight of our trip to Alaska.
July 8, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159715
Our next stop was Cooper Landing near where the Russian River spills into the Kenai. The word was out that this was where the salmon were running heavy, but when we arrived the run had just ended. We tried anyway, to no avail. Don't know what we'd have done with a lot of fish anyway. It was a pretty spot. The Russian is a stream maybe thirty feet wide with clear water rushing over a rocky bed. The Kenai is much wider with glacier silt that gives it a milky green color. The salmon coming up the Kenai must be using a sense of smell or taste to find their way to their ancestral home. They couldn't see where they were going through that silt. It remains one of the great mysteries of nature how they can find their way home to spawn after several years on the high seas. The dividing line between the clear and the silty water is known as the "combat zone." There were forty or fifty fishermen there making only an occasional catch, but when the water is full of fish the fishermen are shoulder to shoulder fighting for space along the banks. Seeing salmon like that will have to wait for our next trip.
We stayed in a Forest Service campground on a bluff above the Russian River. The spot was so popular there was a waiting list, even though two RVs were assigned to each campsite.
July 9, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159800
This was Lamar's birthday, and a beautiful day it was. Under bright sunny skies we headed south along the Sterling highway to Homer. The countryside flattened a bit and the trees were taller as the road skirted the eastern shore of Cook Inlet. Across the inlet we could see towering Mounts Iliamna and Redoubt, cone shaped volcanoes that marked the beginning of the Aleutian chain. Mount Redoubt is still an active volcano, having erupted as recently as 1990. Each turn in the road presented another postcard scene.
Homer is considered the halibut fishing capitol of the world. When we found the Rays, we learned that J.W. had been out on a charter boat the day before and had caught several large fish, in the 30 pound range. They had their freezer full and enough to share with the rest of us. So, we celebrated Lamar's birthday with barbecued halibut and exchanged stories of what each had seen since going separate ways in Anchorage.
July 10, 1993
Odometer @ Start:159965
This would have been a beautiful day to go out on a halibut boat, clear with no wind. But a recurring back ache kept me down. We had enough fish from J.W.'s expedition anyway. We did a little fishing from the banks of the Homer spit at high tide, and Lamar caught one salmon. His ambition to catch at least one salmon in Alaska was satisfied, even though the fish was but six inches long. There were some big fish visible in the water, but none interested in the baits we offered.
We found a little Southern Baptist church in Homer that was billed as the Last Baptist Church, or the most northern Southern Baptist church in America. Small it was, as only 43 people were there, including the preacher, choir, and fifteen visitors. We had lunch at the Lands End Restaurant at the end of the spit, then took a drive on the 1,000 foot bluff overlooking the town. The waters of Kachemak Bay, backed by the snow capped mountains beyond, made for another beautiful setting.
July 12, 1993
Odometer @ Start:160008
We moved from Homer to Palmer, backtracking along the Seward and Glenn highways. The scenery from the opposite direction was still interesting.
Palmer is 42 miles northeast of Anchorage at the confluence of the Matanuska and Knik Rivers. It owes its existence to a few hardy pioneers who homesteaded the land in the early part of this century. It is also the place where 200 families who came in the '30s as part of the Matanuska Depression Project. They came in 1935 and lived in tent camps until they could build homes on the 40 acre plots that they drew lots for. They cleared and planted the land in the face of many obstacles, establishing Palmer as the center of Alaskan agriculture.
A musk-ox farm just outside of Palmer is the only place of its kind on earth. Musk-ox were native to Alaska but were hunted into extinction. They were re-introduced in recent years from Canada and Greenland and are being raised for their fine hair, called "quiviut." Pronounced ki'-vi-oot, the soft hair is sent elsewhere for spinning into yarn, then returned to Alaska where natives knit it into various garments. It is eight times warmer than the same amount of sheep's wool. It is also very expensive, $250 for a little scarf. Sixty-nine animals were on the farm, including bulls, cows, and calves. It was pretty hot, and they were mostly lying down in the shade, but we got a good look walking down the lanes between pastures.
We also visited a reindeer farm. The reindeer is a domesticated caribou. The farm sells reindeer meat and breeding stock to other farms. They also market the antlers which fall off each year. They derive more income from posing the animals for commercial photographers and movie makers. The antlers, which are shed and replaced each year, were massive and still had the velvet coat of the new year. These animals were tame and milled around us looking for food. There were about 300 of them on the farm. We learned later that the federal government is trying to force this farm out of business, using an old law prohibiting ownership of caribou except by native Americans.
July 13, 1993
Odometer @ Start:160295
About fifty miles up the road from Palmer, we got our first look at Mt. McKinley. We were still some 75 miles away, yet it looked awesome!. I had expected something large, but the enormity of this mountain is beyond description. The road and surrounding countryside is relatively flat and at sea level or a little above. The mountain rises over 20,000 feet in less than 20 miles, the most precipitous climb in the world. That's almost four miles nearly straight up. It was even more special because it was a clear day. We were told that there are only 30 to 35 clear days a year when the mountain can be seen at all. Most visitors never see it.
We took the short spur road to Talkeetna and from there took a plane ride to the mountain. The plane flew in and out of several other mountains that would have appeared large anywhere else. We landed on a glacier at the 5,600 foot level, still 15,000 feet below the summit of McKinley and about five miles away. The snow on the top of the glacier was still soft and difficult to walk in. The ice below us was 3,000 feet thick. The only clouds in the sky were little ones that floated by. The rocky cliffs around the snowfield and the view of McKinley from the glacier was fantastic. The plane was cramped with five of us aboard, but the spectacle was worth it. On the return trip we flew lower and saw four moose, one a huge bull belly deep in a creek.
Waiting on the plane in Talkeetna, we visited the museum which was in the old one-room school building that Mary Carey taught in. Mrs. Carey was the author of "Alaska, Not For A Woman" and many other books. We learned that she was at her lodge about 35 miles further up the road and stopped to meet her. At 83 she still manages the restaurant, gift shop, and lodge, and is still writing. She autographed several copies for our group.
We met another interesting person at Mary's lodge, a young man by the name of Keith Nyitray. Keith and his exploits are featured in the April '93 issue of National Geographic Magazine. He walked, mushed and canoed, with his wolf dog Smoke, 1450 miles from Fort McPherson in Canada's Northwest Territories to the west coast of Alaska along the crest of the Brooks Mountain Range. The trek took 10 months from March of 1989 until January 1990. At one point he and his dog were literally buried alive in a snow drift for three days. On another occasion he faced a grizzly sow charging to within a few feet of him. He autographed a copy of the magazine for us and posed for pictures with Smoke. Smoke was a cross between Shepherd, husky, and wolf. Mary is planning a new book about Keith and Smoke who live on his homestead near Talkeetna.
Delayed by the side trip to Talkeetna, there were no campgrounds available, so we camped, along with several other RVers, at a roadside turnoff on the banks of the Nenana River, about 25 miles south of the entrance to Denali National Park. It turned out to be one of our more pleasant camping sites.
July 14, 1993
Odometer @ Start:160520
Crowds have overwhelmed the rangers in Denali National Park. Despite the fact that there are over six million acres in this park, there is only one narrow gravel road. Traffic by necessity is rigidly controlled. We waited two days for a permit to go to a campground 30 miles in, then had to agree to stay for three days without moving a vehicle from the campground, only driving out at the end. The park service operates a fleet of buses that shuttles visitors up and down the 85 miles of gravel. Except for a few professional photographers and park employees no other traffic is allowed past the 15 mile point.
We hustled in to the Visitors Access Center at the park entrance early on Wednesday morning to stand in line for our permits to the Teklanika Campground. Then while waiting two days for our permit time, we took in a sled dog demonstration at the park. This made the touristy demo back at Tok look sick by comparison. These dogs were the same ones that pull sleds on patrol in the winter when everything is snowed in. The program consisted of an excellent talk by a young lady who explained the choosing of the dogs, their training and care. After the lecture she put six dogs in harness and took off on a sled. The gravel surface did not seem to slow them down at all, but they raised a cloud of dust. Something happened on the far turn to divert her attention and she took a fall. The dogs kept on coming to the starting point where a ranger jumped on and stopped them. The young lady could have been seriously hurt, but she jumped right up and ran the rest of the course.
Sled dogs are selected for strength and speed, and their ability to work in extreme environment with only sporadic feeding. They were all enthusiastic about the pull. During the lecture part of the program, the dogs were all lying in front of their little log houses seemingly asleep. When they sensed that the time had come for harnessing, they became excited and noisy. The six selected for this run readily accepted the harness, knowing exactly what was expected of them. When the command came to start, the sled took off like a shot, pulling the sled and rider at a speed of about 15 mph. The only thing lacking was snow.
The Fairbanks to Anchorage train was pulling in to the depot as we were leaving the sled dog demo. We decided to forego a ride on the train after looking at the map. The tracks followed the highway for most of the distance, and we felt that we would be seeing much the same scenery from the car.
Still waiting for time to go in to camp, we rode into the park to the fifteen mile post on Thursday for a picnic lunch at the Savage River picnic area. The weather was holding good, although the air had now become pretty hazy. The tree line at this northern latitude is only about 2500 feet. The road in climbs from 200 feet to about 3,000 in those fifteen miles, and we were above tree line on the tundra for our picnic.
Our turn to drive in came on Friday, and we pulled the rigs the 30 miles in to Teklanika Campground for our three days in the wilderness. After setting up we walked to the bus stop for the shuttle to Eielson Visitor Center, some 66 miles in. Nothing we had read, seen or heard prepared us for the magnificence of this place. The ride began in the taiga, then quickly moved to the tundra. These are two Russian terms for "below the tree line" and "above the tree line." Grass and other plants on the tundra were mostly just ankle deep with a few bushes not over waist high. Consequently the panoramic view was unbroken for miles up and down the valley, barred only to the north and south by the tall mountains. We were not at especially high altitudes, only 3,800 feet at the highest. There were a few patches of snow around. The rock and soil of the mountains was multi-colored from fiery red to light tan, lending the name Polychrome Pass to one of the gaps. The braided ribbons of the Teklanika and Tolkat Rivers flow in some of the valley bottom. Except for the gravel road and the little building at the Visitor Center, there was no sign of human civilization for miles in any direction, no powerlines, no microwave towers, no billboards, no buildings, no nothing.
Alert for wildlife, we saw Dall sheep (way up on the steep mountainside), caribou (not in herds, but scattered), a red fox, four grizzly bears (including a sow and two yearling cubs), numerous small animals, eagles, ptarmigan, ravens, sea gulls, and many other birds. Most of them were a long way from the road, too far away to photograph easily. The buses stopped on sighting an animal, but no one was allowed off. The close up pictures in the magazines and postcards are all taken with high powered telephoto lenses. We got a pretty good look at the grizzlies through binoculars. One huge male had a platinum blond coat that made him stand out sharply against the green background of the tundra valley.
Despite the fact that Mt. McKinley is huge, it is only visible from a few points on the Denali Road and can only be seen occasionally, even on clear days. It is therefore not the dominant feature of the park that I had imagined. Had we not seen it from Talkeetna and the airplane, we would not have seen it at all.
The buses were old school buses from Anchorage, and they ran every half hour over the road which is as smooth as gravel can be. After six hours on the bus on Friday, and despite being tired of riding, we were ready to tackle it again on Saturday for an all day ride to the end, 89 miles to Wonder Lake.
On Friday night the Cockrells and Rays put on a special outdoor dinner for Ann to celebrate her 59th birthday. I think she was a bit overwhelmed by the sentiments expressed. Little did we know a few years ago that we would be spending this birthday in Alaska. It was a special time in a special place with special friends.
We were out on the road waiting for the bus at 6:00am on Saturday for the drive to Wonder Lake. By the end of the day, we had seen 10 or 11 grizzlies, 6 moose, 2 foxes, 2 beavers, and more caribou and Dall sheep. This time some of the grizzlies were right on the road. I got some excellent pictures of a sow and two cubs with the cubs wrestling with each other. Wonder Lake was a disappointment. The road past the Eielson Visitor Center levels out to relatively flat tundra. The lake is surrounded by white spruce and made a pleasant scene, but not nearly as spectacular as the park features in the first 66 miles. We did pass an unusual glacier with grass growing on it. If we hadn't been told it was a glacier we would not have known it. But the abundant wild life made the day a success.
We were ready for a day of doing nothing on Sunday after two days of riding those old school buses. The Rays left us then, starting their long drive home. They were going to Coos Bay, Oregon first to see grandchildren. We had one last game of manipulation on Saturday night. The spades tournament ended rather inconclusively with a three way tie for first place between Betty Jean, Frances and Walter. The men had played nearly 200 games of dominos. Lamar dominated the singles competition with J.W. next and Walter dragging up last. It was just the reverse in three-way games. We enjoyed the Rays and were sorry they couldn't finish the trip with us, but they had to get home. We look forward to seeing them again when we all get together in the fall in north Georgia.
Fairbanks is next.....
July 19, 1993
Odometer @ Start:160680
It took an hour to drive out of Denali, then after dumping our waste and filling the water tanks we were on the road to Fairbanks. There was nothing remarkable about the landscape now. We were out of the mountains and travelling through spruce and aspen forest. The air was mirky from forest fires north of Fairbanks. Reading in the Milepost about the little town of Nenana, we pulled off the highway to investigate. The old depot there had been converted into a museum about the early days of the Alaskan railroad. It was small and not of too much interest. There was an interesting story about Nenana, however.
For the past 75 years the citizens of Nenana have been playing a guessing game. The game now attracts over 75,000 participants from all over Alaska. Nenana is located on the banks of a wide river by the same name. The river freezes over each year as temperatures sometimes reach -60 degrees. A fifteen foot pole, painted with black and white stripes and supported by a tripod structure similarly striped is pushed out on the ice. A line is stretched from the pole to a time clock. Participants in the ice game, for a price of $2.00 each, guess when the ice in the river will break up in the spring. The tripod structure triggers the clock when the ice begins to move. Books in the museum contain the record of the names of all participants back through the years, along with the winners. Last year's winner took home $150,000. The tripod has become a symbol of the town.
Fifty miles further on we came to Fairbanks, found an RV park, and settled in. We had some chores to catch up on before taking in any sights. Then later in the day we drove up to the University of Alaska and the museum there. The museum was not large, but it was first class quality. The lifelike Alaskan animals showed superb workmanship by their taxidermist. The best exhibit was of a bison that had been excavated from the permafrost, estimated to have died 36,000 years ago. The marks of a lion that made the kill were still on the skin.
On Tuesday we visited Alaskaland. Not much to it. Someone had some big ideas for a theme park featuring Alaska, but it has not been well maintained. We did enjoy some halibut at a salmon bake out under the trees. The mirky air from the fires made everything look gloomy.
At Fairbanks we were the farthest away from home that we would get, closer to Tokyo than to Tampa. Now, the long journey back.
July 21, 1993
Odometer @ Start:160880
The little town of North Pole is about 13 miles east of Fairbanks on the road to Delta Junction and Tok. Everything about the town is geared to Christmas and Santa Claus. An elaborate gift shop called Santa Claus House was a thrill for the girls.
Not far from Delta Junction is one of the major river crossings of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Crossing the Tanana River, about 1200 feet of the pipeline is supported like a suspension bridge.
Delta Junction is the western terminus of the Alaska Highway, at Milepost 1422. Another gift shop and Visitors Center is next to the terminus monument.
We stopped for the night in Tok, our second time through there. We met up with some Airstream friends, Bob and Flo Black, who were on their way to Fairbanks. Bob had had a close call, falling asleep and running off the road. They were fortunate that there was no tree, or building, or embankment in the way. They were full of news about the Bismarck rally, mostly about a hailstorm that severely damaged most of the trailers there.
July 22, 1993
Odometer @ Start:161090
After much debate and with considerable apprehension we decided to proceed from Tok to Dawson City via the Taylor and Top of the World highways. We had heard all sorts of stories about the road, from its being horrible to okay. It was a gravel road, but aside from a lot of dust and about 20 miles of rocky roughness between Chicken and Boundary, it wasn't too bad. If it had been the first gravel road we'd seen on the trip, it might have seemed worse, but we'd been well prepared by the gravel at Denali. We drove it slow, taking about 8 hours for the 200 miles. The panoramic views from the mountain crests on the last half of the trip were outstanding.
Chicken and Boundary were more than disappointing. They were depressing. We had considered breaking the trip at Chicken, but quickly decided against it. The three buildings there were pitched at a slant _ a gift shop, a saloon, and a cafe. Boundary was in worse condition with junk strewn all around. It's a shame that these are the first towns in Alaska seen by many visitors, including those Airstream company caravans. We left Alaska just beyond Boundary, entering the Yukon Territory again.
After descending 3,000 feet from the mountain tops to Dawson, we found ourselves on the banks of the Yukon River across from the city with no visible means of getting there. But soon a free ferry chugged across the 400 yard wide river and plunked its ramp on the beach. We drove aboard with trepidation. The swift flowing river carried the ferry downstream a ways before it could get up enough speed to overcome the current, but we got across safely. We found a campsite at the Guggie Ville Campground, then cautiously opened the trailer door to see what toll the road had taken. We had a little dust, a few screws were loose, and the closet door that I had put back on earlier had fallen off again, but we were happy that nothing worse had happened. Lamar had broken brake wires on two wheels, but we got that repaired quickly.
Dawson City was the destination of all those men and women who came looking for gold in 1898, including a Charles William Clifton Tabor whose grave we found in the cemetery. It was the biggest gold rush the world has ever known. Gold was first found on Bonanza Creek on August 17, 1896 by George Carmack and his two Indian buddies, Tagish Charlie and Skookum Jim. Claims were quickly staked along both sides of the seventeen mile long Bonanza Creek. When the first shipment of gold reached San Francisco, word reached the outside world for the first time that two tons of gold had been unloaded from the Klondyke. An estimated 100,000 people then caught the gold fever and set out to strike it rich. Those that made it changed Dawson overnight to a boom town and the largest city in Canada west of Winnipeg. The city is at confluence of the Klondyke and Yukon rivers and is much larger than I had imagined.
From miles around, to old Dawson town,
came the miners in 'ninety eight
With a lust for gold, they endured the cold,
in their rush to participate
The gold now most gone, the prospecting done,
yet the town is still alive,
For tourists like us, from car, boat and bus,
who bustle like bees in a hive.
We drove to the top of Midnight Dome high above the city for an outstanding view of Dawson and the surrounding area. The individual mining claims were ultimately purchased by large corporations which came in and mined the area big time. The ground along Bonanza Creek was literally turned upside down with dredges and power equipment. This tortured part of the landscape is all clearly visible from Midnight Dome. Some mining activity continues still. We also could see for miles up and down the mighty Yukon. The Klondyke River is clear, and where it empties into the Yukon there is a marked division line between its clear water of the Klondyke and the muddy water of the Yukon.
Doing a little panning in Bonanza Creek, we found nothing in the small gravel, but found several rocks in the mine tailings flecked with gold. Panning a little further down the creek at our campground we found enough gold dust to make a pair of earrings for Ann. The piles of tailings would make a rock hound very happy. I've been picking up a few rocks at various places along the way, but the rocks in the Klondyke were decidedly prettier and of more variety. I don't know what any of them are, but I don't think they are gemstones, just pretty.
We panned for gold, like the men of old,
on the banks of Bonanza Creek
And we even found, laying on the ground,
a bit of color, so to speak
The land all around, was turned upside down,
from the frantic search for gold
But modern wealth, is in tourist health,
as busloads of visitors in rolled.
At the Visitors Center we learned of a free presentation being given at the Palace Grand Theater. A solo actress did a good job of playing the part of a gold rush prospector writing a letter back to his wife in the States. In the 30 minute performance, she gave considerable insight into the life led by the gold seekers in Dawson in 1898. It was backbreaking work and for the most part with little to show for it.
The life story of Robert Service, including recitations of his more popular poems, was given by an actor on the lawn of the cabin where Service lived in Dawson. That alone made the trip to Dawson worthwhile, and it was free. He brought the poet and his poetry to life. The cabin where Service did most of his work has never been occupied since he left. It is now a part of Parks Canada, the Canadian national park service.
At a cabin we heard, from the poet's word,
'bout the shooting of Dan McGrew
And old Sam Magee, from Tennessee,
who shivered with cold through and through.
The dancers fanned, at the Palace Grand,
and streets were kind of dirty.
Can-can girls sang, and slot machines rang,
at the house of Diamond Tooth Gerty
We were told that a trip to Dawson without a visit to Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall would not be complete, so we went one evening. The slot machines, blackjack and red dog tables, roulette wheels, and dice tables were going strong. Twice each night a show is staged by elaborately costumed dancing girls. This was the best show of its kind that we'd seen in Alaska and the Yukon, really quality entertainment, and it cost only $4.75 Canadian.
The Dawson City Museum was an interesting place. Housed in the former Territorial Administration Building, the museum contained both artifacts of nature and gold rush memorabilia. Members of the staff put on a dramatic presentation of a gold miner's plight, and there was a movie called the Yukoner, which gave another version of the hard work involved in working a gold claim. The building itself also had a lot of history. Dawson City was the territorial capitol of the Yukon Territory until 1953 when it was moved to Whitehorse. Many of the rooms used for government functions have been kept in tact.
Author Dick North presented a talk and photo exhibit of the life of Jack London at the little log cabin where London lived in the Yukon. The cabin was moved to Dawson from Henderson Creek. North's collection of Jack London pictures, letters, and newspaper articles was impressive as well as the hour long oral presentation of this colorful man, Jack London came to the Yukon seeking gold before he became a writer. He staked a claim on Henderson Creek and came to Dawson to record it. He was stranded in Dawson for several weeks waiting on the river to freeze so he could walk on the ice back to his claim. While waiting he met a family with a dog named Jack. This was the powerful dog that inspired "Buck" in The Call of the Wild. Buck's feat of pulling 1,000 pounds 100 yards in the story became the basis for an annual contest presently held. In the story, 1,000 pounds sounded like an exaggeration, but the record pull for a single dog in the contests is 5,300 pounds, pulled by a St.Bernard from Seward called Brutus. Jack London never found gold in the Yukon, but the stories he wrote of his adventures in the north brought him more gold than most of the prospectors found.
The first of two Airstream Company caravans pulled into Dawson on Saturday. They were full of stories about the rally in Bismarck. Several had back window signs which said "We had a HAIL of a time in Bismarck. Twenty four hundred trailers were damaged by the hailstorm, to the extent of an estimated $15,000 per trailer. They said that rain at the rally was worse than Duluth. Our friends Jim and Joanne Felker from North Carolina were in the first group of trailers to arrive, and we enjoyed Sunday dinner with them at the Westmark Hotel.
We took the little sternwheeler Yukon Lou down the Yukon River to Pleasant Island, and there had an "all-you-can-eat" salmon dinner. The salmon were selected males in the 30 to 40 pound class, soaked in brine, smoked for 24 hours, then barbecued for an hour over hot coals with a special sauce of brown sugar, butter and lemon juice. We ate and ate and ate. Our server was a participant in the Yukon Quest 1,000 mile sled dog run and kept us spellbound with his stories. His dogs and sled were on the premises. While we ate, the boat returned to Dawson for another load of people for the second serving of the night. When they arrived we boarded the boat for the return trip.
The Palace Grand Theater opened on July 18, 1899 as the Grand Opera House. Renamed the Palace Grand the same year, it was rebuilt to the exact dimensions and opulent splendor that it had on that opening night. In its time the Grand was the biggest and best theater north of San Francisco. Even the evening performance was a reproduction of the opening night show of 1899, a goofy play called, "La Siege Inferno." We paid a bit extra for box seats on the second floor. The straight chairs, also exact reproductions of the originals, were not too comfortable, but we enjoyed the show anyway.
It was all very good, we'd stay if we could,
more time we could surely spend
But it was getting late, and at any rate,
good things must come to an end
So with feelings mixed, and our rigs all fixed,
we left very satisfied,
We'd seen a lot, more good than not,
but ahead was a very long ride.
July 26, 1993
Odometer @ Start:161390
We left Dawson after four days with a good feeling about the place. Without the tourist business that now exists, the town would dry up, and much of the history would be lost. The people of Dawson and the Canadian government are trying hard to restore the city and retain the authentic flavor of the turn of the century when it was booming from the gold rush. The boardwalks that line the gravel streets and the gay nineties style wooden buildings all contribute to the authenticity.
The road out of Dawson follows the Klondyke River for several miles then turns south to follow the Yukon River to Whitehorse. About ten miles from the little village of Carmacks there is an overlook that looks down on the Yukon River at a spot called Five Finger Rapids. This was one of the hazards the old miners had to overcome on their journey to Dawson. From the overlook viewpoint, it was a beautiful spot with high cliffs on the far side and tall rock pillars separating the "fingers" of the river.
An ad in the Milepost about the Braeburn Lodge claimed that they had the largest cinnamon buns in the Yukon. We stopped to see, and their claim was real. The buns were like bread loaves, ten inches across and loaded with cinnamon and raisins.
Those were the high points of the otherwise unexciting 300 miles from Dawson to Whitehorse.
July 27, 1993
Odometer @ Start:161720
The road south and east from Whitehorse was a repeat route for us, but everything looked different. Getting a view from the opposite direction, at a different time of day, seven weeks later in the season, with different weather conditions, and a different level of fatigue, made it seem almost like a new course of travel. There were pretty lakes and streams and hills, but the most outstanding sight on this day was the beautiful cloud formations.
We stopped at Teslin at a Tlingit Indian museum and turned in our Yukon Territory souvenir passports. These were little blue books that we had stamped at various spots of interest in the Yukon. Completing them entitled us to some posters and to be in a drawing for a prize of gold, a cute gimmick for encouraging stops at significant places. The museum at Teslin was primarily the collections of one Tlingit man, George Johnston. It included a 1928 Chevrolet in A-One condition, the first automobile in the Yukon. Mr. Johnston brought it in by boat when there were no roads and could use it only on the ice when Teslin Lake froze over. Then he could motor anywhere along the entire 78 mile length of the lake. There was an excellent collection of pictures of the Johnston family and of Tlingit tribal activities.
We stopped for the night at the junction of the Cassiar Highway and the Alaska Highway, 13 miles west of Watson Lake.
July 28, 1993
Odometer @ Start:161990
With a bit of relief we left the Alaska Highway heading south toward Cassiar. As we entered British Columbia we passed lake after lake, and the scenery became distinctly better, even a few snow capped mountains again. There were stretches of gravel road, but it was smoother than the pavement, and with fewer pot holes. Near Cassiar we picked up some jade near the mines.
We stopped for the night at the A&E Ranch in a beautiful little valley. The campsite was on a lake with glaciered mountains in the background. The owners said there was a cow moose with both a new and a yearling calf nearby which could often be seen in the lake feeding, but rains came later in the day, and we didn't see them.
July 29, 1993
Odometer @ Start:162190
After an all night rain, the gravel road turned to mud, and one would not believe what our trailers looked like after a few miles. Except for a little silver still showing on top, they were completely covered with mud. Even the windows and WBCCI numbers were obscured. The trailers looked like baked potatoes with the foil removed. The tow vehicles weren't much better off. Every time an approaching car or truck passed, we were showered with more mud. We had little more than the space the windshield wipers cleared to see out of. After about fifty miles, the gravel changed to chipseal, a form of pavement, but then we were dodging pot holes and wishing for more gravel which was at least smoother. That continued until we got almost to the Yellowhead Highway. This was definitely a more scenic route. Even through the rain we had some outstanding mountain views, passing one mountain lake after another of varying sizes.
Our campground for the night near the town of Katlinga had a pressure washer that made it convenient to wash off all the mud. In places it was 1/2" thick. We must have been carrying a thousand pounds of the stuff by the time we got in. What a day!
July 30, 1993
Odometer @ Start:162355
We drove 300 miles through more rain to Prince George, BC. Although we were still 500 miles north of Vancouver, it was apparent that we were leaving the wild country. Along the road now were farmlands, hay fields, cattle, and trees of normal size, and it was even getting dark at night again. Prince George turned out to be a modern city of 70,000. We pulled in for the weekend and a looked-forward-to rest. Five driving days in a row had us tired and grouchy.
Prince George is located in a pretty little valley where the Nechako River empties into the Fraser. The east-west Yellowhead Highway from Jasper to Prince Rupert crosses the north-south highway from Dawson Creek to Vancouver in the heart of Prince George. From the many ribbons of track, the town is also a major rail center.
We went to St. Giles Presbyterian Church on Sunday, then drove up to Conaught Park on a hill overlooking the city. The park was well kept with an expanse of lawn and many flower beds. Lunch at the White Spot Restaurant brought back some memories of Vancouver two years ago.
August 2, 1993
Odometer @ Start:162800
We were on our way to Cache Creek when strange noises starting coming from our transmission, and soon we lost power and had to stop. We were in the little town of Clinton, BC at the close of a three day Canadian holiday, so had no help available, but fortunately there was a campground nearby. The nearest help on Tuesday was 47 miles away at a GM dealer in a town called 100 Mile House. The situation proved the value of travelling in pairs. Without the load of the trailer the Suburban made it okay, but Lamar's being right behind made the trip feel more secure. And since I had to leave it there, it was nice to have a ride back to camp.
Towns along this route have such unimaginative names as 15 Mile House, 47 Mile House, 89 Mile House, 100 Mile House, etc. Clinton was once 47 Mile House. This road follows the path of another gold rush trail. The railroad brought prospectors as far north as Lillooet, then they had to form wagon trains to drive on. Each day's stop became known by its distance from Lillooet. Clinton was given its present name by Britain's Queen Victoria in 1863, and has the distinction of being one of only two Canadian cities that she named.
Three days and $1000 later we were on the road again with a new transmission. It could have been worse. It could have happened back in the boonies. As it was, we had a pleasant place to wait it out, and we met some new friends, also from Florida, and who also had car trouble. Bill and Theresa Merchant from Marianna had burned out an engine and were facing a $2,600 expense.
August 5, 1993
Odometer @ Start:163185
It was nearly noon when we finally got on the road south. From Cache Creek through the Thompson and Fraser River canyons the scenery was outstanding, ranking high on the list of things we had seen. The road followed the rivers, sometimes high above, sometimes at river level. The mountains on either side were steep, high, and rocky. The Thompson River was clear, but the Fraser muddy. The mountain sides at first were nearly void of any plant life, consisting of rocks and loose gravel, and there were signs aplenty of recent slides. The road was good and well protected from the slides by concrete barricades, unlike the narrow roads we were on two years ago coming out of Lillooet. The scene changed gradually as we made our way south. The mountains were just as high and steep, but their sides were now covered with dark evergreens. The rivers were running fast with many sections of white water as it crashed over rocks.
We stopped at Hell's Gate, a narrow chasm where the Fraser is constricted. The river there tunnels down to 110 feet wide and 135 feet deep, with water travelling through at the rate of 25 mph. That relates to twice the volume of water as flows over Niagara Falls. We took a gondola ride 500 feet down from the road almost to the bottom of the canyon where a suspension bridge extends across the water. The views both up and down the canyon from there were spectacular.
After being in the wilderness with few people to contend with, no one was too interested in going to a crowded large city like Vancouver, so we went straight to the ferry at Tsawwassen to cross over to Swartz Bay and Victoria. We still got a taste of the Vancouver crowds with the heavy traffic on the outskirts. The ferry ride was relaxing after a full driving day and afforded more good scenery as it wound around several islands on the way to Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island is a 300 mile long barrier island that protects the city of Vancouver from the Pacific Ocean.
This was our third visit to Victoria, and it was as charming as ever. It is probably closer in resemblance to old England than any other city in North America. Double decker buses, tea rooms, elegant hotels, beautiful flowers, and the architecture of the buildings, are all reminders of English heritage. The trademark of the city is the flowered lamp post. Eleven hundred of the posts, each with its two hanging flower baskets, line every street. Each basket contains several varieties of flowers and has to be watered daily.
We took a tour through Victoria on one of the double decker buses with an intermediary stop at the Craigdarrach Castle. Craigdarrach was built in the last days of the 1880s by the wealthiest man in British Columbia at the time, Robert Dunsmuir. Dunsmuir made his money mining and selling coal. The 39 room castle was built on a hill overlooking Victoria. All the woodwork and inner decor was exquisitely crafted. Over the years, however, the building has been used for all sorts of purposes. Solid walnut walls and murals were painted over, not once but many times. All of this is now being painstakingly restored by the local historical society.
Lamar and I had lunch while the girls had high tea at The Olde English Inn. This was an elegant inn with good food and reasonable prices in an extraordinary setting. The driveway leaves a busy street and climbs through a woodsy area to an old English style village, In the village is the inn, shops, and replicas of William Shakespeare's home and Anne Hathaway's thatched roof cottage.
The most memorable feature of Victoria is its flowers. The flowers set the tone for everything else. The flowers are in public places, private businesses, and private residences. Even gas stations are beautifully adorned. Tomorrow we go to the crown jewel of all flower gardens, Butchart Gardens, and we eagerly await Frances' reaction ...
August 7, 1993
Odometer @ Start:163450
One after another, items on our list of things to see and do on this trip have been checked off. Butchart Gardens near Victoria, BC was high on that list. Though Ann and I had been there twice before, it was a new experience for the Cockrells, and we were looking forward to Frances' reaction to this crown jewel of flower gardens. A day touring the city of Victoria with all its flowers served as a warmup for the trip to Butchart.
The sunshine that we had been enjoying for the last several days succumbed to clouds on Saturday morning, and it looked like our plans for visiting Butchart might be in jeopardy. By noon, however, the skies cleared and it couldn't have been nicer weather. We ate lunch in Sydney, then drove over to the gardens. If anything, the colors of the flowers were more intense than we'd seen them before. They've had an exceptional growing season with enough rain to make everything plush. Frances was ecstatic in her wonder at the beauty. We walked every path. Woody Woodland was there again with much the same routine as two years ago. He was still asking if we'd heard of his Uncle George, the one who had the kangaroo farm in Australia and made beer from the --- HOPS!
We chose Saturday to go to Butchart because of the fireworks display that was advertised for every Saturday night during July and August. Thousands of people came out hours ahead of time to cover the hillside and get good spots. When we saw what was happening, we went back to the car, got a blanket, and staked our own claim to a spot on the grass. By 9:15pm, there were twelve to fifteen thousand people sitting on the grass. And what a show it turned out to be! For twenty five minutes, we watched a most fantastic display of fireworks, orchestrated by computer to an accompaniment of music. It was impressive, not so much for quantity, but for the controlled explosions and fantastic patterns that were developed, all in time with music. The lake in the foreground mirrored the colorful bursts.
Located in an old limestone quarry, the thousands of vividly colored begonias, zinnias, marigolds, roses, petunias, hydrangeas, larkspur, and many other varieties were banked in profusion around the meticulously manicured lawns and pools. That vast array of color holds visitors in a sort of stunned hush. Despite the crowds and potential for noise, there was only a pervasive feeling of peace and quiet. Even small children seemed to be affected by it. This may be the most beautiful man made spot on earth, and I use the term "man made" with circumspection.
While in Victoria we also took in the British Columbia Museum which is world class. Though we'd been there before too, many things were new. It remains an excellent presentation of the natural and social history of the province. Wildlife was displayed in natural surroundings with sound effects, temperature changes, breezes, even smells, to make it all seem real. The undersea exhibit which we hadn't seen before was not up to the standards of the rest of the museum.
On return to our campsite at the Saanichton KOA, Frances found some wild blackberries and picked a couple of buckets full. They were delicious with cream and in a cobbler.
August 9, 1993
Odometer @ Start:163535
We boarded the American ferry at Sydney destined for Anacortes, Washington at noon. The three hour run across the Juan de Fuca Straits and through the San Juan Islands was beautiful in spite of a drizzly rain. This is by far the prettiest of the various ways to get to and from Vancouver Island. The ferry wound its way through a myriad of islands, stopping twice. The first stop was at a place called Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, a nice looking spot. Then, after another stop at Lopez Island we landed at Anacortes.
To Victoria town, from all around, folks come to see the flowers
From small bouquets, to vast arrays, then fireworks after hours
A ferry ride, we took in stride, 'cross Juan de Fuca strait
Then at long last, a line was cast, on the lower forty-eight.
We were glad to be, in the land of the free, in the good old U.S.A.
So on we went, with our money spent, just a short time left to play
Then to Oregon's heart, in the southern part, we came to Crater Lake
That clear, deep blue, with a gorgeous view, what a picture it did make!
It was good to be back in the U.S. though traffic was heavy all the way through Seattle. We got caught in the wrong lane, missed the by- pass around Seattle, and drove through the heart of town in the six o'clock rush. Traffic on the interstate continued heavy all the way to Lacey where we found that they were in the midst of the Potlatch rally. Fortunately, they still had room for us. We immediately ran into Ken and Delores Luhrs. They were there for a month, having completed a scouting trip for a caravan they are leading next year. The Airstream park in Lacey hasn't changed. It's still $6 per night for full hookups.
August 10, 1993
Odometer @ Start:163700
From Lacey we drove south to Eugene, Oregon along I-5, electing to forego the Oregon coast in the interest of time. From Eugene we moved on to Crater Lake National Park. What a place! With all the beauty we saw in Alaska there was nothing as grand of Crater Lake. There were fantastic vistas from the rim of the crater, and the deep blue color of the water was beyond imagination.
Mount Mazama "blew its top" some 7,000 years ago creating the crater now filled with the water of Crater Lake. The volcano is but one of many in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington. If we ever visit again though, I'll take the southern route in. Pulling the trailers in from the north, up the mountain to the rim of the crater, around the rim and back down to the campground was scary. The road was paved, but it was steep, curvy and had no shoulders or guard rails, and the edges dropped off to nothing. But the scenery was something else! Large patches of snow still covered the ground, and it late August! After getting set up, we drove back up to the rim without the trailers. The incredible deep blue color of the lake was the first thing noticed when looking over the edge. The rim is at an elevation of about 7,000 feet while the water surface is 1,000 feet below. Huge trees along the bank of the lake appear to be miniatures. The lake is about 6 miles wide at its widest point and about 2,000 feet deep.
It has been determined that the eruption which created this phenomenon was more than fifty times as large as the one at St.Helens in 1980. It blew over 5,000 feet of the mountain away. The crater that was left gradually filled with water, primarily from underground sources. There were no fish in the lake until introduced by man in the late 1880s.
The landscape around the mountain is beautiful too. Some areas have never grown back since the eruption and appear as desert. Other areas are thinly treed, though the trees are large. The trees are predominantly hemlock. Rock formations of many shapes and colors reflect the volcanic nature of the mountain.
We drove the entire circumference of the crater, stopping at every overlook. The awesome beauty was unbelievable. In our minds now, it ranks up at the top of our National Parks.
August 13, 1993
Odometer @ Start:164182
The fifty miles of forest southwest of the park were outstanding, about as pretty as the road through the redwoods, The road was a corridor, almost a tunnel, through giant old growth conifers. We drove through Grand Pass, then to Crescent City, California for the weekend. We tried to get into Jedediah Smith State Park which we remembered from the last trip as especially nice, but others had the same idea, and we found it full. So we went to the Harbor View RV Park in Crescent City, and it proved to be a comfortable spot for three nights.
We drove down the Redwood Highway a few miles to Trees of Mystery, one commercial tourist place with intrinsic value. But for a tip from Al Weathers, we would probably have never stopped here four years ago. Now, the second time through was even better. The stroll through the big trees was breathtaking. The trees are unbelievably huge and unusual. The 2,000 year old tree growing out of the downed 2,000 year old tree has been cut down for safety reasons. But the stump remains to display the age of both.
These coastal redwoods are the tallest trees on earth, some reaching 360 feet in height. The sequoia redwoods further inland and south are bigger in diameter and mass, but they aren't as tall. In this part of California all trees seem to take on added growth. The firs, spruce, and hemlocks were huge too. The sea fog that rolls in almost every day during summer provides the equivalent of 90 inches of rain each year and gives the trees their needed moisture. The fog this year has been scarce giving the rangers concern.
Then we took a ride, to the ocean side,
where the coastal redwoods grow
Those awesome trees, near Pacific seas,
like dwarfs we strolled below
In times gone by, we can't deny,
the lumbermen left their tracks
But what a cost, if the trees were lost,
to the hungry woodsman's axe
The highway at one spot descended to the beach where we watched the waves of the Pacific Ocean break against rocks. Large rocks out in the water gave the beach a rugged appearance, much like the Oregon coast. The water was cold, about 60 degrees. The beach sand was course and a dark gray color. We didn't see this four years ago, as it was then shrouded in fog.
We heard a live wire preacher at the First Baptist Church of Crescent City - Rev. Ron Murcray. He was a guest speaker, but had been their pastor for three years before returning to go back to his former church in Morgan Hill, California. In fact, his return to Morgan Hill was for the third time.
On Sunday afternoon when the tide receded we walked over a short isthmus to the Battery Point Lighthouse. Built in 1856 when the Crescent City harbor was just becoming an active port, the lighthouse is one of only a few still manned by human beings. The man and his wife who are the keepers are isolated from the rest of the world twice a day when the tide comes in. Their job is to maintain the light and facilities. They gave us a tour of their home and the light, which included a walk up a narrow spiral staircase and ladder. Many interesting things have happened there over the last 137 years. In 1982 a winter storm took 15 feet off the northeast side of the island. In 1964, the earthquake that shook Alaska caused a tidal wave which inundated Crescent City, but the lighthouse survived. Views from the island down the coast were excellent. We could see harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks to the north.
August 16, 1993
Odometer @ Start:164400
The drive down Hwy 101 through the redwoods is like none other in the country. In many places the pavement comes right to the base of the tree. The road will never be widened, for to do so would require taking out trees that are 8 and 10 feet in diameter. We made a couple of stops, one at the largest of the coastal redwoods, "The Big Tree," a giant 21 feet in diameter, and at a nature trail along the Avenue of Giants. Walking in the forest of these giants is an incredible experience. All the adjectives in the dictionary cannot describe them so anyone else can comprehend. They are so tall and thick that only occasional shafts of sunlight filter through. The forest floor is almost dark. Ferns that cover the ground are nearly six feet tall themselves. We walked about a mile on a loop trail through one of the thickest groves.
We picked up mail at Myers Flat and found a letter from the Dawson City Historical Society. Upon finding the Tabor gravemarker I made some inquiries about who he was. No one then knew, but the letter advised that Charles William Clifton Tabor was the husband of Diamond Tooth Gertie. I guess that explains why his was the only stone marker in the cemetery otherwise filled with wooden markers. He died in a hotel fire in 1916 while his wife was in San Francisco on business. Now I need to identify him with Ann's family.
We stopped for the night at the Golden Rule RV Park near Willets, California. To get there required descending a mile long steep grade to the valley bottom. Again proving that it really is a small world, I met a business associate from 30 years ago in Brunswick, Georgia. Don Gammon, also now retired, was an accountant working with the firm that handled the audits for our shrimp company. He and his wife were in a big motorhome, travelling with two other couples through California.
August 17, 1993
Odometer @ Start:164650
From Willets, we climbed out of the little valley and drove into Napa Valley, stopping again at the Veteran's Home where we stayed four years ago. Napa Valley is as pretty as ever, with grape vineyards in every direction, although the vines didn't look as healthy this time.
With over 50 wineries in operation, and almost all of them giving tours and wine tasting sessions, we had a hard time choosing where to visit. The tour guide at the winery of Robert Montavi did an excellent job of presenting the story of the Montavi family and their vineyard and processing operation. They were the first in the valley to use stainless steel storage and fermentation tanks. Aging, however, still takes place in oak barrels imported from France. They leave the wine in the barrels for two years and use them twice. They then become geranium planters. This means disposing of and repurchasing 25,000 barrels a year, at a cost of $600 each.
We also toured the Sterling Winery and the gardens of Sutter House. The Sterling facilities are at the top of a hill, and to get there required riding a cable gondola car up quite a distance. The views of the valley from there were outstanding.
The vineyards were suffering from an infestation of phylloxera, a small insect that deposits a plant killing poison in the root stock of the vines. The only solution to the problem is to replant with a different stock that is impervious to the bug. Over time, this will kill 70 percent of the plants in the valley and cost $1 billion to replant. We saw numerous fields that had already been replanted. Those fortunate few who already had the good rootstocks were still a deep green healthy color. Napa Valley still reeks with wealth. The bug problem will only be a small glitch in their routine.
August 19, 1993
Odometer @ Start:164875
Leaving Napa Valley we headed east on I-80, driving through Sacramento, then climbing over 7,000 feet to the Donner Summit. That long climb ranks with the length and steepness of the climb out of the Columbia River gorge. Not far from the summit, we crossed the Nevada line and stopped for the night at Boomtown. Hidden behind a facade that looks like a row of stores in an old West town, is an elaborate gambling casino. A fancy hotel, good restaurant, modern RV Park and truckstop are all priced below expectation to attract people to the casino. For example, the buffet at the restaurant was $3.99 for all- you-can-eat. From the looks of the people busy filling the one-armed bandits with coins, the place is thriving.
August 21, 1993
Odometer @ Start:165380
After a stopover and mail pickup in Elko, Nevada, we continued east on I-80 past the Bonneville salt flats, the Great Salt Lake, and into Salt Lake City. We arrived early in the day, and while the girls went to the mall and Lamar watched a football game, I spent the afternoon in the Mormon genealogy library. I remain convinced that the only way to learn anything there is to spend a week or more getting oriented to the system. I asked a few questions, then went back to the computer room to get a look at their system. There was a networked bank of about twenty terminals with someone sitting at every one of them. I signed in and took my place in line to wait on a terminal. Small world that it is, the couple ahead of me were Airstreamers from North Carolina that we had met in Tok, Alaska, then again in Lacey, Washington. The wait was short and I was assigned a terminal. Several LDS volunteers (missionaries) were on the floor to assist in getting folks started. You type in a name, then wait for the computer to search their data banks for information on the individual. The data is stored in a huge mainframe data bank accessible from each terminal. I found 7 or 8 files that were of interest and copied them onto a small disk to review later at home. It is an incredible system, and there is an incredible amount of interest in it. The computer room is only a small facet of the overall library.
Later we drove to the capitol, then stumbled into one of the most elegant little restaurants. We were looking for Brigham Young's home, the one famous for it 22 gables. As it turned out, it was in the next block east of Temple Square. Anyway, I barged on in to see if it was open to the public. I was quickly told that it was not, but the little lady was kind enough to show us into his living room. There we sat in Brigham's golden chair and got a look at his piano, a massive thing that came across the plains in an ox-drawn wagon. This was the house where Brigham Young housed eleven of his nineteen wives and thirty children. Each of the wives had a bedroom upstairs. The house was called The Lion House. Below in the basement was a restaurant that served an unbelievable buffet.
The Lion House Pantry ranks up close to the Banff Springs Hotel meal in quality and elegance for this trip. Imagine all-you-can-eat of prime rib, large peeled shrimp, fish, chicken, potatoes, rice, fresh- baked rolls and many varieties of vegetables, salads and desserts. We even had hors d'euovres and strawberry punch in the foyer while waiting for a linen bedecked table. Afterward it was almost necessary to call 911 to get us out of there. I'm sure that old Brigham never ate any better.
On Sunday, we went to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but instead found that they were away. The youth symphony and choir was at the tabernacle instead, and they put on an outstanding musical presentation. The 6500 seat auditorium was almost filled. It continues to amaze how the Mormons put up the buildings they did in the mid nineteenth century in the wilderness even before the railroad across country was completed.
After the program we walked over to the original governor's mansion, next door to the Lion House. This is called the Beehive House. This was Brigham Young's official residence managed by another wife who lived there with her seven children and was the official hostess. Many of the furnishings were original family possessions. It was called the Beehive because Young admired the energy and industry of a bee colony. To be sure he must have had nearly limitless energy himself to keep up with his 19 wives and 56 children, not to mention the affairs of church and state.
One of these days we are going to stay a while in Salt Lake City to really see all the many things of interest there.
August 23, 1993
Odometer @ Start: 165650
From Salt Lake City we journeyed east on I-80 to the little town of Rawlins. Rawlins was once Rawlins Springs, named after an army officer who was surveying the route of the Union Pacific Railroad. With his crew badly in need of water, he sent his scouts out one day to look for a spring. They found a good one and named it after their leader. The railroad was then routed close by to take advantage. To this day Rawlins is known for its excellent water, and the Union Pacific Railroad still runs through town.
This is the country that Home on the Range was written about. The deer and antelope play, and the skies are not cloudy all day. Just no buffalo any more. We made camp on an open flat gravel bed. It was a campground, but with not a single tree. With wide open prairie there was nothing to slow the wind down, and our trailers rocked all afternoon. Then the trains ran through all night. To Ann, with her Patterson, Georgia background, this was just music to sleep by. No one else got much sleep, however.
August 24, 1993
Odometer @ Start:165925
We crossed into Nebraska and stopped at a little town called Chappell. Lamar's starter failed again (he had replaced in Oregon). We were fortunate to find one in Julesburg, about 20 miles away, and got it installed with a minimum of trouble. Even had time left in the day to play some more dominoes. I have been playing catch-up ever since J.W. left us. Think we are about even overall now, and it's time for him to pull ahead again. Frances and I are one up in spades over the same period of time. Hearts, though, has become the game of choice. The wins there are also about evenly divided.
August 25, 1993
Odometer @ Start:166175
We stopped for mail at Gothenburg, Nebraska, a post office I had used two years ago. While the Cockrells visited the Sod House Museum with its barbed wire sculptures, we went into town for our mail. Then we continued on to Lincoln for the night. The further east we travelled, the hotter it got. After a summer of coolness, it really hit hard, and more was promised.
August 26, 1993
Odometer @ Start:166520
I-29 south from Lincoln through Iowa and into Missouri took us by some of the areas flooded by the recent overflow of the Missouri River. The cornfields showed extensive damage. We drove through Kansas City, stopping in Grain Valley about 12 miles east of Independence. We then drove back into Independence for a visit to the Harry S. Truman home, museum and library. Our 33rd president certainly lived in modest surroundings. The house at 219 North Delaware Street was the girlhood home of Harry's wife, Bess, and had been in her family for a couple of generations. When Harry and Bess were married in 1919 they moved into an upstairs bedroom in the house shared with her parents and grandmother. Despite the problems this undoubtedly caused, the house became the Truman home and remained so for the rest of their years. It was called home even during the years they were in Washington serving in the senate and as President, and it was where they returned after his 2nd term as president.
Harry Truman was called "a most uncommon common man," and the modest house with its modest furnishings reflects that sentiment. After he returned to Missouri in 1952, he devoted much of his time to writing his memoirs, then undertook the project of building the Truman Library and Museum to house all the papers, gifts and other things that marked his time in the White House. After completion he maintained an office in the museum until his death in 1972. The materials in the library are available to the public for research and have served as the basis for many books about the Truman years. The museum holds many of the gifts that Truman received from various heads of state and many things that reflect the momentous decisions that he had to make in office. The Trumans are buried in the courtyard of the museum and library.
August 27, 1993
Odometer @ Start:166880
Our campground in Grain Valley, Missouri was next to a truck stop that had a set of truck scales. We took advantage of that and weighed our rigs. Our total weight was 16,100 lbs., with the Suburban weighing 7,180 lbs. of that. The trailer weighed 8,920 lbs, with 8,200 lbs on the wheels and 720 lbs on the tongue. I've been curious about those weights for a long time. Lamar's overall weight was 5,000 lbs. less.
We spent the weekend in St.Louis visiting with our friends, Carl and Harriet Wellons. The Cockrells left us there to hurry on home, and we will proceed on shortly. So this will be the last installment of our travelogs for '93. By the time we get home we will have covered about 15,000 miles. With the help of this record, the memories will be great.
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