Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Anchorage, Alaska with family!

002Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city. In fact 40 percent of the state’s total population live in the Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna Borough area. It does feel like many other American cities with several differences, of course. One major one is that in Anchorage on June 21st there may be an official sunset and sunrise but it does not get dark! We were there to celebrate the Summer Soltice! The City had a celebration complete with Bands, a special week-end market full of all things Alaskan and the Hero games. My brother and sister-in-law had wanted to be in town on the longest day of the year also and we were tickled to be able to spend a wonderful Saturday with them seeing the sites, watching the games and eating Reindeer Brats for lunch. Turnagain-bore.jpg (1768×960)We also went to Kincaid Park hoping to see a Moose or a Bear but were disappointed. We did get to see the mud flats on the Turnagain Arm off of the Cook Inlet and watch the tide start to serge back in. This is the only place in the United State where a Bore Tide occurs regularly. A Bore Tide is “a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travels up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay's current.” See the file photo at left.

We enjoyed walking the streets and watching a part of the Hero games and then went down to see Ship Creek Bridge where fisherman line up elbow to elbow when the salmon begin their ‘run’ through the river there. That is expected to happen the following week.003

That evening we drove out to Eagle River, a suburb of Anchorage, where we had our motorhome parked at the Elks Club for a couple of nights. Ron and Scarlet joined us and our friends Ron & Bernita and Dean & Judy for Happy Hour. We all had a fun time visiting, talking about Alaska and traveling! After we grilled our dinner it was time for Ron & Scarlet to head back into the city to their Hotel. We loved having this time together with them and we’re planning for the next time we can make our travels coincide. May-be Arizona? May-be Louisiana?

Sunday was our day to drive to the Kenai Penninsula. Our drive along the Turnagain Arm was breath taking with the water and mountains all around us for nearly 50 miles. Highway A1 then took us through more gorgeous mountains, past the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers and on to Soldotna. We are staying at a Fish Camp west of town. The salmon are running on the Russian River and tomorrow we are headed up there early to try our luck!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Landing on Mt McKinley’s Ruth Glacier

096(Jan) On Thursday we left Denali N.P and headed down towards Anchorage but stopped at the Talkeetna-Denali Visitor’s Center because Chuck & I needed to run up to Talkeetna to get our mail. Several others wanted to go up and explore the town. And that’s when it happened! I was talking to a local gal and asking what there was to do in town and she mentioned several things and then said '”or you could fly up to a glacier with this guy”……David Lee just happened to be picking up his mail, too. David is the owner of Sheldon Air Service and takes people up on Mt McKinley’s Ruth Glacier. Chuck was soon asking questions and struck up a deal to fill the seats on a010 small plane 094that David was flying up to the Ruth Glacier with several mountain climbers. Chuck & I wanted to go and there was room for 3 so we called our friend Judy who kept saying that she wanted to do this.  Judy came by in her car with Sally and Ron & Bernita and of course, everyone wanted to go. Ron went over to the Sheldon office and soon had it arranged for all of us to go on the same plane! We were happy that we got to share the experience together! They tried to get ahold of Gregg & Dean who had stayed behind with the rigs but could not reach them. Darn!

We were all VERY excited!! Judy, Bernita and I 108bought ‘Glacier Girls’ T-shirts, Chuck and Sally opted for long sleeved ‘No Bad Days.’  We were so pumped and very ready for our flight! David got us all seated and strapped in with our head gear on and off into the wild blue yonder we went toward McKinley!! Did I write about how excited we were?!

We took off from the Talkeetna Airport and headed North Northwest to Denali National Park. We flew over rivers, forests and wetlands before flying up into the Alaska Mountain Range towards Mt. McKinley. It was just breath taking being up so close to and in the mountain range. At one point we flew between two 5,000 feet sheer rock walls on either side. We flew into the Don Sheldon Amphitheatre, a bowl shaped area between peaks and several glaciers, and landed smoothly on the Ruth Glacier! Wow!! It was incredible looking up and around. We stood silently for a time an listened to the water rushing several hundred feet below our feet under the glacier. We heard a loud crack and knew that a chunk of ice was breaking off on one of the glaciers in the area. We had great fun walking on the wet snow in our glacier boots making snow balls and snow angels. We were just 6 miles from Mt. McKinley’s peak which rose about 15,000 feet above us as we were standing on the Ruth Glacier at about 5,400 feet elevation. Amazing!!

069Chuck & Jan with the DeHavilland Beaver. 008Flying over the rivers and lakes out of Talkeetna 081Mt McKinley & the Alaska Range.
098Two glaciers meeting and becoming the Ruth Glacier 141Bernita, Sally, Judy & Jan 151Chuck, our pilot David Lee and Ron

171167All to soon it was time to board the plane and head back. We lifted off and followed the Ruth glacier, pictured at left, out of the mountains. We were fortunate to see two grizzlies on the side of the mountains and many moose grazing below us as we got back to the end of the glacier, pictures at right, and then flat land.

Our two hour adventure was awesome! David Lee and his wife Holly Sheldon Lee own and operate SAS. Read about them on their website. http://www.sheldonairservice.com/  If you ever get the chance to do this, we would highly recommend Sheldon Air Service!  Everyone in the office was enthusiastic and wonderful to work with. We felt especially lucky to have David as our pilot. With 34 years of flight experience in and around Denali, he shared with us his vast knowledge of the mountains and answered each question we asked. What a wonderful day!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

DENALI National Park

Denali (3)(Chuck) We departed Fairbanks on the 14 of June and arrived at Denali the same day. Not long after leaving Fairbanks we were able to catch glimpses of the biggest mountain in North America. We are experiencing a very unusual weather pattern which has provided us with great viewing opportunities. For more than four days in a row the mountain has been visible in the blue skyline. All of the bus drivers and local people have remarked that this is such an unusual event. A very high percentage of people who travel to see this mountain have never experienced it because it is often shrouded in rain and mist. We have once again been blessed.197

 

 

 

We took the bus ride to Wonder Lake on the second day. We were greeted by Grizzly Bear,  Dall Sheep, Moose, Caribou, Ptarmigan, Red Fox and other smaller critters. It is the best way to view the mountain, however is also an 85 mile, gravel road, school bus ride from the visitors center. We left at 5:30 am and returned to camp about 4:30 in the afternoon. Those who could secure a spot and camp at Teklanika (we were unable to reserve a spot) had a much shorter day on the bus.

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(Jan) Our first night in Denali was spent in an overflow blacktop area and the next five days at Riley Creek Campground. It’s a beautiful place and it is also home to a mama moose and her calf. On the day we moved in, they were munching on the tender spring trees and creating a ‘moose jam.’ The Park Ranger had foot and vehicle traffic at a stand still until mama moose decided to move on. They are very dedicated to the wildlife in this park! Denali is home to 300 to 350 Grizzly Bears, 2500 Dall Sheep, 2,000 Caribou and 2,000 Moose, 60-100 adult wolves005 along with a number of fox and lynx.007

 

                                                                            

005Denali National Park and Wilderness came about because of the pioneering interest Charles Sheldon had in the Dall Sheep in this area. In 1917 2,000 acres containing Mt. McKinley, U.S. and North America’s highest point, became McKinley National Park. The locals have always called it by it’s Athabascan name which means ‘the high one’. In 1980 the park was enlarged to 6,000 acres and was renamed Denali National Park and Wilderness. Glaciers cover 16 % of the Park’s acres. At least 5 glaciers on the mountain are 20 and 30 miles long. The Ruth glacier is 3,800 feet thick. Permafrost-permanently frozen ground covers much of the park. “The active layer (the layer that freezes and thaws seasonally) can be from 1 inch to 10 feet thick. The permafrost layer below the active layer has been measured to be between 30 and 100 feet deep depending on the location of measurement in the park.” It’s a fascinating place!

(Chuck) If there is a downside, it is the abundant supply of mosquitoes that seem to battle with us each time we venture outdoors. It seems that a wet fall and early snow prevented the “proper freeze up” to contain these pesky critters.

008The photos I took in North Pole, which is near Fairbanks, should have warned us of what was to come. The front of this white car appeared to have been carpeted. Closer inspection revealed that it was covered with mosquito bodies. 005

There is a story of two mosquitos that entered a tent and were discussing the options of what to do with the two men who were sleeping inside. One mosquito said to the other. “We better eat them here, because if we drag them outside, the big ones will take them away from us.” The camp store has no repellant or netting left and they report that the shelves are bare from Fairbanks to Homer. We shall see about that as we hope to resupply in Anchorage soon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fairbanks, Alaska

(Jan)  The Alaska Highway officially ends in Delta Junction. The road to Fairbanks, called the Richardson Highway, had already been in existence at the time the Alaska highway was created. The ten of us fellow travelers, Judy & Dean, Keith & Sandy, Ron & Bernita, Sally & Gregg and Chuck & I had our picture taken in Delta Junction at the end of the Alaska Highway Marker. (Click on the photo to enlarge.) We visited the North Pole, where we all sent postcards to our grandchildren, then continued on our way to Fairbanks. This area has many things to offer and we enjoyed many of them.

DSC02276Delta Junction at the End of the Alaska Highway sign.

001This giant brown bear greets visitors to the University of Alaska Museum.

007The Large Animal Research Farm at the UA where we saw Musk Ox, Caribou and Reindeer.
DSC02363Our cruise on the Chena River on the Discovery Paddlewheeler. 048Four time Iditorod Winner Susan Butcher & husband David Monson’s Sled Dog Compound. 037An Alaska Float plane given us a take off and landing demo on the Chena River.

The University of Alaska Museum has wonderful exhibits about the state, it’s history, the Athabascan culture and the animals that live here. They also had a large art exhibit and 3 feature films about the museum & it’s exhibits, living in Alaska in the Winter, and the Aurora Borealis. The film on the Aurora was particularly good. We also went the Large Animal Research farm to learn about Musk ox, caribou and reindeer. That afternoon we saw the Alaska Pipeline and then headed over to the Discovery Center where we did a paddlewheel river cruise. Besides the airplane and dog team pictured above we visited an Athabaskan Village. When we got off the cruise we went into the ‘40 degrees below zero room'.’ Yikes! Very cold but we didn’t stay in it very long!

425In the ‘40 Degrees Below” Room, Fairbanks at the Discovery Center 003At the beautiful Fairbanks Visitors Center 008Along the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks
074Bernita & Jan at the Ice Museum 047The ice bar where you could have an Appeltini in an carved ice glass 027A ice Jaguar on a parquet floor

The following day six in our group flew to a Bettles Resort beyond the Artic Circle for several days while Ron & Bernita and Chuck & Jan visited Chena Hot Springs & the Ice Museum. The Ice Museum exhibits the creations of World Ice Art Champions Steve & Heather Brice. It also has 4 ice bedrooms where you can spend the night!  The next day we went to downtown Fairbanks and their Visitor’s Center. “In addition to trip planning services, there is a theatre showing free films and programs on Alaska's natural, cultural and visitor history and an exhibit hall featuring 9,000 square feet of museum-quality interpretive displays and dioramas depicting Interior Alaskan landscapes and seasons.” In the evenings we also had many fun evenings playing Pegs & Jokers. On Friday the four of us headed south to Denali!

One last note……It’s NEVER truly dark here!  When you go for a walk at 9 or 10 at night, you have to wear sunglasses! When you sit at your computer at night you have to pull the shade because of the sun shining in your eyes. At ‘night’ when it’s time to sleep, you have to shutter your windows as much as you can but it is never really dark. It’s kind of like taking a nap, a long one, in the afternoon.  And keep a clock at your bedside because when you wake up you have no idea if it’s midnight , 3 A.M. or time to get up; it all pretty much looks the same! We love it though….it’s been great having it light outside. There’s no ‘after dark’ and you never have to use a flashlight!

023The Alaska Crude Oil Pipeline outside of Fairbanks. It is a 48” diameter pipe. 022One of the many, many flower baskets on the Chen Hot Springs grounds. 009It never gets really dark here…. this photo was taken at 12:15 A.M. as I finished reading ‘Call of the Wild".’
     

Monday, June 10, 2013

Top of the World Highway to Tok, Alaska

014005(Jan) The Top of the World Highway consists of 100+ miles of gravel ‘highway’. The road is a challenge but the views from this ridge road are beautiful.  The road is generally open mid May to mid October but this year it had been open for just one week when we drove it June 6th. There were still many snow banks along the road. We drove in sunny/partly cloudy weather and got along fine but we all knew that the narrow, winding, steep road would have been treacherous in wet or foggy conditions. We crossed the Canada/U.S. Border, the U.S.’s northern most Border crossing, Friday morning and arrived in Chicken, Alaska a couple of hours later. Chicken, founded as a gold mining camp, has a permanent population of 7 but that rises to 23 in the summer. We visited the Pedro Gold Dredge at the Chicken Gold Camp, bought T Shirts at the Down Town Chicken Mercantile, enjoyed ice cream cones at the Gold Camp Outpost and of course, had our photo taken with Chicken’s chicken!moore news

We found a great boondocking location for the night about 9 miles from Chicken. Plenty of room for 4 rigs and a relaxing time around the campfire. Chuck got one of 002our ‘needed projects’ done there. We picked up a chip in our windshield down near Whitehorse and he got it fixed with a self-repair kit.

After a relaxing time having coffee outdoors this morning, we were off to Tok to rejoin the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks. Time to wash the vehicles after all of those miles of gravel roads! Chuck, Ron & Bernita tag teamed both our our rigs and both of our cars in 30 minutes for $9. Wow! We also met Gregg and Sally there and they joined our caravan. Oh! And we also shopped for postcards and a sweatshirt for me at All Alaska Gifts & Crafts and got 1/4 pound of fudge free!

022We then got on the phones to see if we could all get into Teklanika Campground at Denali National Park and were soon disappointed to learn that they only had space for one rig on the dates that we wanted. But the rest of us did get into different campgrounds on most of the same days. We will spend a week around the Fairbanks area and then head to Denali. We’ve looked forward to it for a long time and we’re pretty excited that we’ll get to go! And get to go with friends!

Tonight (Saturday) we are at another great boondocking location along the Alaska Highwat at the Gerstle River.  Today’s Mountain scenery was magnificent on our short drive into and then from Tok. Tomorrow; Fairbanks!

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dawson City, Yukon Territory

099(Chuck) From the cockpit of an RV, this is a town of two distinct sides. There is the obvious history of the gold mining that is evident all over the land. Gold was discovered in 1896 and the Klondike became known to all. Pick and axe were soon displaced by the large dredges which scooped up huge amounts of rock and riverbed into their cavernous interior. Gold was separated and tailings were disgorged out the back to form huge trails of rocks where there was once river and meadow. Driving into town along the Klondike River to Dawson City reveals these tailings which the gold dredges have left in their wake. The last dredge to run in this area was the now famous Dredge No. 4. It’s final season was in 1959. In it’s 46 year history it recovered 8 metric tons of gold.

The second side of the area is the tourist attraction of Dawson City. The famous Diamond Tooth Gertie’s shows which are scheduled for 8:30, 10:30 and midnight. Show girls and turn of the century entertainment are standard fare. Jack London museum and cabin, and the Robert Service cabin are all well marked on the tourist papers. Numerous gift shops and storefronts line Front Street by the river.034028

We were fortunate to see another dimension to this area. It all started four days earlier and 340 miles south in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Ron Poutney, who is one of our traveling companions, was in a grocery store in Whitehorse. While he was looking at the ground beef on display, he noticed a couple looking in the meat section and in true Ron fashion he said, ‘This is a much better buy on the ground beef.’ He soon had struck up a conversation with the couple and discovered that they were in the process of supplying their gold camp with provisions for the upcoming season. Ron has been a loyal and dedicated viewer of a TV show called Gold Rush. He soon discovered this couple was056 Greg and Cathy McNeil who owned the claims on Quartz Creek where the show was filmed. Greg and Cathy not only provided a base for the show to be filmed, they operate a successful mine of their own which is called North Star. Soon an invitation was offered to visit and that is all it took for us to eventually drive the 29 miles of gravel up Hunker Road to their camp. We were warmly welcomed to their house and Greg answered each question that we had. He gave us a tour of his claim and we all posed for a photo in front of the famous “Big Red” which separated gold from rock on the TV show. Walt Dillard who is Greg’s right hand man helped us to learn the fine points of gold panning and we were successful in finding our share of color. Walt is a dozer operator and was a regular member of the TV show. Greg made many appearances as a consultant. It was a remarkable experience for all of us and it gave us a look at this town which very few people can find.065 - Copy

Our plan to stay in Dawson was to be at a local RV park. We are all serious boondockers and Dean and Judy discovered that the charge to boondock was $19. That is just out of our budget to park our solar powered rigs so we set on a quest to find a place for us to stay. 102Soon we pulled into a way station/heavy equipment camp on the highway. As is our custom, when we spot a place to park our rigs, we knock on a door and with a smile we ask permission to stay for a night. We were greeted by a warm smiling face and soon we were all standing around talking like we were long lost friends. Our host was Bev Fischer and her husband Wayne. We discovered they own and operate the Sparkling Creek mine which is 110 miles upriver on the Yukon River. They access their mine by jet boat and use a large barge to transport heavy equipment.  Wayne & Bev joined us for Happy Hour on Wednesday and once again we learned a great deal about the Klondike area and that there are many successful mines operation in the area today. We had a wonderful experience in Dawson and will carry the memories of each of these miners with us. We have exchanged e-mail addresses and will no doubt have more contact with them in the future.

(Jan) We did some touring when we were in Whitehorse including a drive to Robert Service’s cabin (Author of The Cremation of Sam McGee), a drive up Midnight Dome road to get a panoramic view of the Yukon & Klondike rivers & Dawson City, a stop at the Dawson City Museum and a trip up the Bonanza Creek to see Dredge #4.

008One of Dawson City’s gravels street above. The Yukon River and Dawson City from Dome Road, center. 013At right, our friend Bernita on trail at the Dawson City Museum. We, her fellow miners, found her innocent! 092

Today was our day to cross the Yukon river on the George Black Ferry. I was a little apprehensive as the Yukon was at flood stage and as high as it has been since 1967 but the crossing went like clockwork. Ferry approaches are constructed and re-packed daily or hourly to accommodate the rising water. The ferry is considered part of the Yukon highway system and so there was no cost to cross the river! Bernita & I crossed with the cars and Ron & Chuck came over with the motorhomes. (The Sheeleys and Forresters had gone over ahead of us.)

012The Jeep boarding 042Crossing the Yukon 085The Motor Home disembarking

Tonight (Thursday) we are just off of the Top of the World highway which is mostly gravel and runs along a high ridge. We will cross the Canadian/U.S. border tomorrow morning and make a stop in Chicken but for tonight we are tucked away in a beautiful boondocking spot along the Clinton Creek road enjoying a campfire.037

 
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