Tuesday, August 7, 2012
HYDER, AK TO KAMLOOPS, BC
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, there is only one road to Hyder, so when leaving there, we had to retrace our drive. That was OK because it was a beautiful day and I got some really nice pictures of some of the glaciers.
We had no idea how far we would drive each day as we intended to be in Prince George or Williams Lake, BC so we could get the truck serviced. Little did we know that this was a holiday weekend in BC (BC Day) and none of the dealerships would be open until Tuesday, 8/7. We had some time to kill. We ended up staying one night in Frazier Lake and one night in Williams Lake.
Frazier Lake was a nice experience. We found a free municipal campground (no services) located right on the lake and about a mile from a high school that had a track. We were able to use the track to do our running and then enjoyed a beautiful view of the sunset across the lake. The next morning, we went by the visitor center to use the dump facility and to tell them how much we appreciated the campground. In Willaims Lake, we had planned to stay in their visitor center parking lot, but it was too noisy so we stayed in their Wal-mart parking lot which was located in a quieter area.
The area from just before Frazier Lake and just past Williams Lake is beautiful rolling hills with fields of hay. I have never seen so much hay and so few cattle or horses. I asked at the visitor center what they did with all that hay and was told that there were many small cattle ranches back off the main roads. This area also produces much of the wood products that are used in North America. There were many huge sawmills and other wood processing facilities.
We are now Kamloops BC which is a large city. We were in shock when we saw that the temperature was in the 90s and since we have been experiencing highs of 50-60 for the past 6 weeks, we are feeling it. We found that there are no campgrounds nearby and most of the big box stores do not allow overnight parking. We finally learned that Canadian Tire Company stores do allow parking and that is where we stayed last night. We needed to kills some time waiting for the temperatures to go lower, but we waited a bit too long. We found a university track where we went to run. A thunderstorm was threatening and sure enough, about 1.5 miles into my run, the sky opened up for about 30 minutes. After the storm passed, I finished my run. The track facility had a very nice restroom and I was able to wash my hair and take a sponge bath while Hollie kept a lookout for me.
Today is Tuesday and Hollie just returned from the Toyota dealer where he learned they would not be able to service it until 1:30 this afternoon. Since it is Toyota of Canada, we will have to pay and then get reimbursed (hopefully). We may try to find a Y where we can work out and shower and then get the truck serviced before heading on down the road.
SKAGWAY TO HYDER
I am so far behind with writing this blog and I really don’t like to write from memory. At this point, I’m having trouble remembering where we were on which date. We have either not had electric so that I can keep my laptop charged or we have not had internet access to post what I have written. I think from this point on we should be OK with both.
We spent two days in Skagway and although the drive down to the town was really pretty, Skagway is simply a stop for the cruise ships. Each of the two days we were there, there were 4 or 5 ships in port. As soon as they arrive, there is a parade of people, buses, vans and other forms of transport as the tourists make their way to the shopping area or head out on various day trips. I have never seen so many jewelry stores in such a small area. Most of the shops open when the ships come in and then close when they are out of port. I would recommend a trip to Skagway but be prepared for the crowds. Two days was plenty enough for me.
We left Skagway on 8/2, headed toward Hyder, AK which is known as one of *the* places where you are likely to see bears. There is a viewing platform along a creek where the bears come to feed on the salmon, especially during July and August.
One thing that you learn when in Alaska, YT or BC is that there are very few direct routes to any place. In fact, there are very few routes of any kind. In other words, you do a lot of driving. To get to Hyder, we drove the same scenic highway 2 that we had taken to get into Skagway, except that we did not have to go all the way back to Whitehorse, YT to get to the Alaska Highway. Instead, we took Highway 8 which cut off quite a few miles. Once we got on the AH, we drove toward Watson Lake, YT, cutting down on the Cassier Highway to eventually get to Hyder. To get to Hyder, we left Alaska, entered YT, on into BC and back into Alaska.
One of the highlights of this drive was Jade City which had a factory store where they have huge amounts of jade and all kinds of jade products. It is my understanding that a large amount of the world’s jade comes from the surrounding area. It was a nice break and we enjoyed seeing all the different jade products and watching a cutting demonstration.
This drive took us over two days. The road was under construction most of the way and there was very little traffic with very few services. We ended up staying one night at a provincial park and one night at Bell Lodge 2 RV park. Bell Lodge 2 is a resort with a nice restaurant, cabins and other forms of lodging. It was quite a surprise to find such a nice place in the middle of nowhere. They even had an exercise room and since it was raining, we took advantage of that. I was excited when I saw they had a treadmill, but then I was not so happy when it kept stopping and I would have to get off and reset the breaker to get it going again. After about 3 miles of running and 4-5 stops, I gave up.
I later found out that Bell Lodge 2 is a popular helicopter ski area. One would have to have big bucks to even get here during the winter. I doubt that many people would drive since it would take forever so they must fly into one of the small landing strips.
Hyder is another one of those places where you have to take a side road and then backtrack to the main road. The side road was called “The Glacier Highway” and it lived up to its name.
Once we got to Hyder and found a campground, we headed to the bear viewing platform. We learned that the best time to see the bears was between 6-8 am and again at 6-10 pm so we decided to return later in the day. In the meantime, we drove back to Stewart, BC (just a couple of miles) where we found a bakery and indulged in our usual afternoon snack and coffee. We planned to workout after that, but it continued to rain and most of the roads were quite muddy. We also realized we would not have enough time to run and then eat dinner before going back to see the bears. At least that’s my excuse for not running.
We drove back to the viewing platform, arriving at about 5:45 pm and sure enough, we had missed seeing a sow and cubs that had been feeding for about 30 minutes. We decided to just be patient and we were rewarded with seeing a large grizzly who suddenly appeared several hundred yards upstream. He simply walked through the water directly in front of us and up an embankment, onto the road and then into the woods. My pictures are not that good, but you can get the general idea of his beauty and size.
At this point, I guess we can say that we are now headed home. I have no idea how long it will take to get there and we have not decided on a route. We are approaching 10,000 miles on the truck so we will have to find a Toyota dealer so we can get it serviced.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Valdez to Tok to Haines Junction
We really enjoyed our five days in Valdez, four of which had fantastic weather. The highs were in the 60-70 range, with nearly full sun on those good days. The residents were in a frenzy as this is certainly not their normal weather. We really got a kick out of watching people swimming in the “lake” that is in front of the civic center. There is no way I would have gotten in that water. Not only was it cold (to me) but there was also a light wind. Those people were so white that it hurt my eyes to look at them.
We first went to Robe Lake where we observed the operation of one of the most unusual machines that I have ever seen. I call it a bottom water grass reaper. The operator drove around the lake and the machine cut and picked up grass from the sides and bottom of the lake. He then took the grass to the side of the lake and deposited it where I assume it will be burned or disposed of or used for some purpose. It looked like a large pile mulch.
We then continued on to Blueberry lake and then to Worthington Glacier. This is a glacier that is so close to the highway that people actually walk up on it. A couple of weeks ago, a 16 year old boy fell in a crevasse and had to be rescued. They said the only reason he survived is that he was so big that he was lodged much higher than he might have been. I think he was about 6’5” and weighed nearly 300 pounds. All of his clothes were torn off him by the ice. Anyway, we observed a group of 7 people who had hiked about half way up.
On the way to and from the glacier, we drove through a beautiful canyon that has over 20 significant waterfalls. As usual, the pictures do not show the true beauty. Between the canyon and the turn off to our campground, we stopped to see the trumpeter swans that have made their home in this same water for many years.
Yesterday when we left Valdez, the weather forecast proved to be correct. The temp was about 50, with rain. As we drove up and over Thompson Pass, which gets well over 600 inches of snow per year, we were in the clouds with driving very slow. As we were in the clouds, we discussed how we probably would not be seeing the family of four (Dad with kid on attached bike and Mom and Daughter on individual bikes) that we had seen the day before. They were bike camping and we just could not imagine them riding up and over the pass in such conditions. Just a bit later, we say them! They were over the pass and taking a break on the side of the road.
We continued to make our way toward Tok where we planned to stay the night. The highlight of that drive was the $3.99 breakfast (served all day) and the huge moose that we say standing in a pond. I hope the pictures show this beautiful animal.
While at the Tok campground, I met a guy from NC who was riding his motorcycle all over Alaska. A bit later I saw him again and he stopped me to ask that I be on the lookout for a white envelope that he had lost. He was sure that it had fallen out of his pocket somewhere in the campground and it contained $2,500! I cannot imagine how upset I would be if that had happened to me. This morning I saw him again and he gave me a huge smile and told me that he had found it in one of his bags.
The drive from Tok to Haines Junction is the worst part of the Alaska Highway. There are frost heaves that can really damage your vehicle or trailer. There are also long sections of gravel road or sections that are under construction. We usually try to get behind another vehicle and observe what is happening with them and then make adjustments. We ended up driving all over the road, while attempting the minimize the problems. At one area, we had to be lead by a pilot car and we had a 15 minute wait, so I got out to talk to the young woman who was holding the stop/slow sign. I’ve always been curious about these jobs. She told me that she is a 20 year old college student and this is her summer job. She had worked 10 hours a day for 7 days a week for 5 weeks and would be working another 4 weeks. Get this---the pay is over $20 and hour and she gets over $30 an hour for time over 40 hours a week. I quickly calculated this and I think she will make about $15,000 for the 9 weeks of work. Housing is also provided. What a deal!
We are now at Pine Lake campground in the Yukon Territory. We just got back from a walk down to the lake. The temperature is less than 60 degrees and there was a guy (not wearing a wet suit) water skiing. I dipped my hand in the water and although the surface water temperature did not feel *too* cold, I certainly would not be skiing there.
Friday, July 27, 2012
SOLOMON GULCH FISH HATCHERY
Here in Valdez, Alaska, we spent three nights at a full service campground in downtown Valdez, but had to leave there because there was a large caravan coming in that had prior reservations. Last year we had stayed at a more rustic campground which is about 7 miles out of town and closer to the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery which is where we like to spend time observing the wildlife, including bear, salmon, sea lions, and eagles. So we decided to return to that area, where we plan to stay at least two nights.
This year’s wildlife at the hatchery has been no different, with the water absolutely boiling with salmon. Nearly every evening, bear come out to feed and when the tide is out, the eagles come down to feed on the fish remains. Last night I counted over 100 eagles. There are also quite a few sea lions, but we have not yet seen a bear.
There is a asphalt trail that goes along Prince William Sound, past the hatchery, ending at the terminus of the Alaska pipeline. I really enjoy running this for the above mentioned wildlife, the beautiful setting as well as the opportunity to observe all the people who are fishing for the salmon.
After we finished our workouts, we went into town to have our afternoon coffee and pastry and the visit the library so we can have internet access. After we finished at the library, we went to the ferry terminal where there is a nice park where you can observe the boat action in the harbor. We had the unique opportunity to see a Coast Guard boat as they practiced some of their skills. They would throw out rings, markers and other survival and rescue items. They would then move several hundred yards away and then on signal, with sirens and movement of personal on the boat, they would arrange themselves on the side of the boat while quickly accelerating to the area where they had left the items. Then, they rescued those items. They did this quite a few times, with changing of duties for the six member crew. It was interesting to watch and I could not help but notice the big gun that was attached to the front of the boat.
When we got back to the campground, we built a huge fire and cooked burgers and hot dogs. Thankfully, this campground has showers because we certainly did smell like smoke.
Needless to say, we are very much enjoying our time in Valdez.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Prince William Sound
What an absolutely amazing experience! Tuesday we took a 9 hour Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruise. The cost was $155 per person, but it was well worth it as we were able to observe steller sea lions, humpback whale, sea otter, dall’s porpoise, harber seal, and a wide variety of birds, including puffins. The destination of the trip is the Meares Glacier with a view of the Columbia glacier, but the entire trip was filled with beautiful views, as well as the opportunity to observe and learn about commercial fishing that is so important to Alaska.
We left the Valdez harbor at 10:00 am and returned after 7:00 pm. The boat has a capacity of over 160 and was about half full, so we had lots of room to move around. When we left the harbor, the clouds/fog was so bad that we were wondering if we were going to have a good trip. About the time we got past the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal, it started to clear.
We had a really good narrator and he did a great job of providing us with the history of the pipeline and the oil spill. We were able to see where the tanker had run aground and he explained the circumstances of the grounding. He also gave us a lot of information about navigation and how the spill changed the way traffic is now handled in the harbor.
As far as the amenities of our boat trip, we were provided free coffee and hot tea with a variety of snacks available for a small charge. The crew that served us was composed of high School and college guys who were quite knowledgeable and courteous as the served us. We had a lunch that consisted of baked chicken with alfredo sauce over a bed of rice, vegetables, a large rolls and oreo cookies. Late in the afternoon, we were served a bowl of clam chowder with crackers. Our lunch was warm when it was served, but just as we started to eat, the narrator told us that whales were just up ahead. We then spent about 30 minutes whale watching and returned to a cold lunch that by that time was not very good. That’s OK because I certainly did not want to miss seeing the whales.
As we began to approach the Columbia glacier, we observed increasingly larger chunks of ice in the water. The ice from that glacier was nothing in comparison to what we saw as we approached the Meares glacier. This was so amazing and the views of the glacier were just as you see on postcards, etc. The Captain got us very close and although we did not get to see any huge calves, we did see and hear several small ones. We stayed at the glacier for about an hour.
On the way to and from the glacier, we saw hundreds of commercial fishing boats and the narrator gave us a history ofAlaska fishing and the current status. It was really neat to watch the process. A small boat is attached to the net and it moves out to make a circle back to the large boat as the fish is captured in that net. Then, the fish is loaded on that boat. Some of these boats just go back into harbor, but some off load to a tender and remain out on the water. It is my understanding that they can fish 12 hours a day and that time is closely monitored by the coast guard. The boats take turns getting lined up to fish certain areas. It is an honor system and I’m sure they deal with any violation amongst themselves.
Guess which TV show?
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
We spent last night at Squirrel Creek State Park. This is a beautiful small park located on the Richardson Highway about 80 miles North of Valdez. We got a site that was right by the creek and had a great time cooking hot dogs and burgers over our roaring fire. We had purchased about 30 pieces of firewood (for $10) at a roadside honor system place that had stacks of wood priced at $10, $15, $20, $25, $30 and $50. We bought from this place last year and the wood is very good. They have a box by their driveway and you are on your honor to pay. Previously, on this trip, we have paid as much as $1 a stick for wood.
When we checked in this campground, I noticed a sign stating that firewood would be delivered to the campground at 6 & 9 pm. So when I was approached by a young woman who asked if I knew why the firewood had not been delivered, I told her I did not, but that if she wanted some of our wood, I would sell her 6 sticks for $5 which was less that what we paid for some and more than what we had paid for others. I figured it was a good deal since they would otherwise not have any wood. Then, a guy from her group came over with the money and since I'm too short to reach inside the truck, I told him to just get 6 pieces of wood. The guy moved the wood around until he had picked out the biggest and best pieces and he took *seven* pieces. Since Hollie was not around, I thought I'd best not get into a confrontation in remote Alaska over firewood. But it did anger me that I was trying to be helpful and then, in my opinion, I get shafted. So much for trying to do a good deed.
Before we started our fire we went out for our workouts. The only place to run or bike was the highway and we were located at a very hilly section. Hollie did not want to get too far away and he wanted to ride back and forth until he got his desired distance. I did the same, except that I ran 4 miles and walked 1 mile. I got back before he finished and got the fire started. When he finally returned to the campsite, he appeared to be very agitated and excited. As he explained his bear encounter, I quickly understood his elevated state. He said that he was riding up hill when a grizzly started across the road about 20-30 yards in front of him. The bear reared up and Hollie was sure he was about to be attacked. Then, the bear quickly turned and ran in the opposite direction. We had a good laugh about this as we figured that the bear had never seen anyone riding that road on a Cat Tryke which is a three wheel tryke where the rider's butt is about 4 inches off the ground.
We are now in Valdez, Alaska where the high temp today was 55 degrees, with mostly rain. We found that we could workout at the community college for a $10 per person fee. Hollie did that because he wanted to do a weight lifting session, as well as walk/run on the treadmill. I went outside and although I got quite wet, I was never really uncomfortable as I ran 6 miles and walked 1 mile.
We will be in Valdez for at least 3 nights and if the weather improves, we would like to do a boat trip out into Prince William Sound. There are also two very nice museums which I will visit. Of course, there is the fish hatchery which attracts eagles and bears. The back drop for this is Prince William Sound where there are whales, sea lions, otters and lots of salmon.
Friday, July 20, 2012
NOW IN HOMER, ALASKA
Before we left Soldotna, AK yesterday morning, we stopped by the Skyview HS and I got in a good speed workout. This is not the track I ran on last week that had all the mystery/incorrect markings, but it also had issues. There were frost heaves in most of the lanes, but only lane one was so bad that I had to stay away from it. I ran a total of 4.5 miles and walked 1.75. The speed consisted of 6 x 400 @ 2:08 with a 400 jog recovery.
This school is located in a beautiful area with cross country trails overlooking the school. In fact, they have a series of 5K trail runs for 5 consecutive Wednesday evenings. I had considered doing that event, but I really needed a speed workout more than I needed a trail run. After I finished the workout, I did walk part of the trail and saw that it was lighted for cross country skiing. Here in Alaska, they would need lights because of the lack of sun during the Winter. I think they have the Alaska state cross country championship on this course. It would be perfect, for such an event. The surface was dirt and grass, with the trail having several changes in elevation as it worked its way through the woods.
This morning’s weather forecast called for rain so we tried to get out early and do our workout. Hollie wanted to go to a track. Last year I had attempted to run on the middle school track, but it was pretty bad. We went over and checked it out and it was even worse than last year. I knew that the high school track had been condemned in 2008, but I also knew they were going to rebuild it this year. We went by the check it out and sure enough it was under construction. That meant that we would do our workouts on the Homer Spit which has a hike and bike trail. I had run on it last year and it is a beautiful area, with wildflowers all along the trail and great views of the bay and the surrounding mountains. I ran 4 miles and walked 1 mile. As I was doing my stretching, I noticed that a huge bald eagle was high up on a light tower, observing me.
Tomorrow we will hit the road, but we’re not sure where we will be for the next few days. We do want to go back to Valdez, but may take our time getting there.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
DIP NET FISHING AND A SALMON PICNIC
As you will see in the pictures, this is a huge family activity. Each permit holder can take 25 salmon and 10 flounder and 10 of either for each additional household member.
Tuesday afternoon we drove out to Captain Cook State Park. We had bought some salmon and firewood and proceeded to cook our fish. Not really knowing what we were doing, we tried four different methods. Using aluminum foil, we placed the fillet on the foil and added either butter, Italian salad dressing or Evil Evelyn’s (honey mustard) which we had bought early in this trip. We then double wrapped with the foil. Each of these turned out quite tasty, but we had either cooked them too long or had the fire too hot. It really did not matter since we were having such fun with the fire and enjoying the view out over the inlet with the mountains in the background.
It is indeed a small world! As we were finishing up our picnic, three people came along and we asked them if they would take our picture. While talking with them, we discovered they were from the Katy, TX area and the more we talked, the more we realized that we had quite a few mutual friends. That was really fun! There were here working for a company that is hiring for some new/renewed oil and gas development.
Since we were so smoky smelling, we wanted to get a shower before going to bed. We have found that we can get free showers ($2.00 for non Seniors) at the Kenai Recreation Center. This had worked quite well until last night when the shower area was taken over by “natives” who had been dip net fishing. To put this as nicely as possible, I have never seen so many large naked women. It was not a pretty sight. I have not discussed what Hollie’s experience was like and I really do not want to know.
Yesterday morning we decided to drive to Homer which is about 80 miles South of Soldotna. We weren’t sure if we would actually make it since there are so many places along the way which we had previously visited and wanted to see once again.
About 15 miles South of Soldotna we headed out on a nicely paved loop road that promised great views of the Cook inlet. Too bad that we did not get to see them. At least not today. About 4 miles into the loop we had a blow out. No problem, we have a nice new spare. Too bad the hook on the rod that cranks the jacks just broke right off. At this this time, we are not too happy with Toyota since this is a brand new jack that came with our brand new truck. I was also kicking myself for not renewing the Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance that we had last year. So, we bite the bullet and I call Good Sam’s and explain that my policy has expired but ask if they can tell me who they *would* have sent had we had the policy. They were very nice and gave me the name and number. I called the guy and he was changing the tire within an hour of our call. Needless to say, I will be renewing the Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance.
Now, we have to have a new tire so we go back to Soldotna and buy one. We also need a new rod for the jack, but since there is no Toyota dealer here and that rod was pitiful, we plan to go to Walmart later tonight and buy a new and hopefully better jack or rod or whatever we think we need.
The strange thing about the negative things that have happened on this trip is that neither Hollie nor I have been too upset. Our attitude is shit happens and you just deal with it. While on the trip we have had the trailer furnace repaired, our house in Hattiesburg was struck by lightening and now we had this blow out. We just altered our plans and went out for our workout. The real frustration is that when we went back to the Recreation Center to shower---guess who was there? Yes, once again I had to shower with all those naked Native women. I don’t think I’ll be going back there.
We spent another night at our “second home” the Kenai Wal-mart parking lot. Today I will go the track and do a speed workout and then we’ll try to continue on to Homer.
Life is still good!