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.


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.

Our last day in Valdez, knowing that the weather forecast called for rain the next day, when we would be driving by some of the more scenic areas outside of Valdez, we chose to do that tour while the weather was so nice.

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.