Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back in the USA, Glacier National Park

This elk welcomed us to Jasper National Park
He is 10 yards from The Tin Wheeler

It's hard to believe that it's been over a week since I updated this blog. Mostly, we have been in places without cell phone service, let alone internet. In addition, we didn't want to distract from the beautiful places by being on the computer. The Tin Wheeler is now in Glacier National Park nestled into a nice wooded campground that is nearly deserted. The season here is nearly over and the last rush of campers will be Labor Day next weekend. After that, most of the campgrounds close. The weather has been beautiful, mostly sunny skies with temperatures during the day in the mid to upper 70s.

We added our sign in the Sign Post Forest at Watson Lake

From Watson Lake we continued on the AlCan and stopped at Liard River Hot Springs. We had been told by others along the way that this was a place not to pass by. They were correct. From the campground, it is about a 1 mile walk to the hot springs. Unlike many hot springs we have been to before, this one had minimal development allowing one to feel what it might have been like to be here a hundred years ago. Except for a boardwalk along the spring to protect the vegetation on the bank and a small dam to make a deeper pool, this place is truly an oasis. We went to the spring shortly after our arrival and again very early the next morning before our departure. The water was hotter than any we had ever experienced and the setting was beautiful.
Liard Hot Springs

We decided to put some miles on to allow us to stop for a couple or three days at a time, rather than stop at a new destination each day. Passing through the oil boom town of Fort Nelson we felt our decision was a good one. After visiting towns gone bust after the gold rush, I wonder what will become of these towns when the oil and gas has been depleted. The 325 miles we drove that day took us to Bucking Horse Provisional Campground in British Columbia. Our campsite was right on the Buckinghorse River and despite the number of miles we had driven, I had time to fly fish before dinner. Unfortunately, the river was low and the only fish were small brook trout. Still, it was fun catching and releasing them.
Mary Joan at Mile 0 Intersection, Dawson Creek

The next day we also spun the odometer wheels, passing through the oil and gas towns of Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, mile 0 on the AlCan Highway. We stayed this night at the community campground in the town of Grande Cache. My question about what the oil/gas towns will look like when the resources are depleted was answered here in Grande Cache. This once thriving mining town is now nearly a ghost town, with the population less than half of what it was in its hay day. The community is putting on a good face, though. This campground was a gem and a bargain. Full hook-up (water, electricity and sewage) for only $12.50 per night. It also has the cleanest showers and laundry facility of any that we have visited. Situated in a very scenic area, we could have stayed here for many days. However, we have given ourselves a deadline and must be off the next day bound for Jasper National Park and Lake Louise.

We pulled into Whistlers campground, a massive array of camping sites. Despite the huge number of campers that this place accommodates, it felt very pastoral. This was made apparent both upon and shortly after our arrival. While we were waiting to check in at the gate, we observed a coyote casually stroll across the road. After we had set up camp and I was sitting at the picnic table and facing the Tin Wheeler, Sarah told me to look over my shoulder. There, less than 15 feet away was an cow elk. A short while later, a bull elk wandered past and laid down to chew his cud in the next campsite. After a while, he walked within a foot of Mary Joan. I was worried that he would scratch her with his antlers.
She was almost looking over my shoulder when I first saw her

Jasper and Banff National Parks have been co-joined.  It is a massive amount of land set aside by Canada for the people. The mountain scenery is majestic. Unfortunately, millions of people come here every year which requires substantial infrastructure that has had a serious impact on the environment and hence the ability to feel connected to nature. After spending so much time driving to get here, we were not going to be deterred from enjoying Jasper despite the commercialization. In this context, Sarah and I define enjoyment as being able to get out and go hiking. Jasper offered only a few opportunities because of safety restrictions due to bears and cougars. One hike called out to us. It was the Whistlers Trail. The distance is about 5 miles to the summit with an elevation gain of about 3,800 feet. The guide book said to allow 3-5 hours to complete the hike one way to the summit. Sarah and I are happy to say that we made the summit in 3.5 hours. We were two of only about eight others that climbed the entire mountain that day. However, we were met 600 feet from the summit by hundreds of people that had paid $30 to take the high speed tram. It was discouraging making the last 600 feet because we were going much slower than everyone who had taken the short cut. We were happy, though, because despite our age, we were not too stiff the next day. And, eating out at a fine restaurant that night was a just reward.
On the summit of Whistlers Mountain

The next day we moved to the Lake Louise campsite. We hiked the Louise Creek Trail from our campground to Lake Louise. On arrival at the lake, I remembered that, before leaving last May, I had looked at this place using Google Earth and decided that this was not a place I wanted to go. There is a huge hotel on the shore of the lake with hundreds of people milling about on the paved walk ways along the way to the canoe rentals. Sadly, I noticed that the water of the lake was not as clear as the other lakes we have visited. The vivid colors we have seen in other lakes was there, but the water was turbid and unappealing. We thought we would spend more time in Jasper/Banff, but decided to leave and seek a more tranquil place. The map indicated that there was a provincial park not far from the U.S./Canada border, White Swan Lake Provincial Park.
Beautiful Lake Louise

The road took us through a major tourist town, Radium Hot Springs. We inquired at the information center about the road to White Swan Lake. The representative told us that the logging road was well maintained and would be passable for the Tin Wheeler. So, we decided to drive the 20 miles to White Swan. Passable is the word to describe the road. It was severely wash boarded and, in places, was only a single lane road with hairpin turns, steep drop offs and logging trucks to contend with. After successfully managing the road we were rewarded with a great campsite on the lake shore. We spoke with other campers and got the local knowledge of where and how to fish on the lake. We launched the dinghy and tried our hand, but, as the guide book says; the trout here are elusive.
White Swan Lake, British Columbia

Retracing our route to the highway, we stopped at the Lussier River Hot Springs that we had passed on our way in. A short hike to the river a hundred feet below brought us to the most natural hot spring setting yet. The water was dammed with large boulders taken from the river making a number of pools of varying temperature. Best of all, was the ability to rinse off in clear cold river water just steps from the hot spring pools.
Lussier River Hot Springs

I have been to our next stop, Glacier National Park, before. In the summer of 1996 I participated in the first Harley Owner's Group Posse Ride. We started in Portland, Oregon and finished in Portland, Maine. We passed through Glacier National Park and the Road To The Sun Highway. I wanted Sarah to see this magnificent place. Originally, I had planned to traverse this road on our way to Alaska. But, heavy snow this past winter kept the road closed until July 13. Plus, on arrival here, I learned that vehicles of our combined size were restricted from the highway.

Today we drove from west to east on the Road To The Sun. I was happy that Sarah found the views as amazing as I had 15 years earlier. However, the mountains had changed. Forest fires in 2006 had changed the landscape dramatically. The tall pines and spruces were all dead and standing like telephone poles in the once forested land. Had we not learned about the impact of fire on natural forests along our travels, we might have been disappointed at the landscape we beheld. But, with the understanding of how forests change we saw a forest, not destroyed, but in flux. Listening to descriptions of forest fires currently blazing using phrases like; '100 square miles destroyed', causes me to retort that the land has not been 'destroyed', rather it has been changed and will renew itself in a new shape and form.
Going to the Sun Mountain
Big Horn Sheep as seen through the spotting scope

Today we saw Big Horn Sheep and Mountain Goats. Both were high on our list of wildlife to see, but the mountain goats were Sarah's favorites. The sheep and goat were about a mile away. We brought my dad's Swarovski spotting scope. It was did a great job letting us get a good view of these magnificent creatures.

We reluctantly returned to our campsite knowing the necessary cleaning due to an unwanted stowaway taken aboard at White Swan Lake. A squirrel had gotten into the Tin Wheeler when I left an outside compartment door open. We thought it had vacated before we left White Swan Lake. But, last night we heard the rustling of its feet behind the sink. I opened the cabinet door and there, sitting on the box of Baggies, was our stow away. He quickly retreated behind the partition. We had to open every compartment and systematically block off routes into the trailer to finally evict this unwelcome guest at 1 AM. When we returned from our day's exploring, this squirrel was chatting angrily at us. We just hope that we won't be charged with bringing an invasive species into the U.S.

It's too nice to stay inside and add all the pictures, so stay tuned and check the Picasa Albums in a few days.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Top of the World Highway

Our intention, after leaving Denali Naitonal Park, was to drive east on the Denali Highway. This route is supposed to be very scenic. From Cantwell, just outside the entrance to the park, this gravel road parallels the Alaska Range and joins the north/south SR4, the Richardson Highway through the middle of the range toward Fairbanks. However, low clouds and rain obscured the mountains. It didn't make sense to subject Mary Joan to such a hard ride if we couldn't see the vista. Having begun this trip at what we thought was a very early date, we now feel we should have started earlier. It would have been nice to just sit and wait out the rain. But, we have made plans to be in Winfield, Kansas in time for the 40th annual Walnut Valley Festival and that is nearly 3,800 miles to go in only thirty days. So, we continued north on the East Park Highway to Fairbanks.
View from our boon docking site on the Denali Highway

People we met along the way told us to plan on spending a few days in Fairbanks. We don't see what could entice anyone to go to there. There is nothing scenic about this place. The several blocks that make up the downtown area consist of run down and empty buildings. The nearby visitor's and convention center had an interesting, and very well presented, museum of Alaska history. Here we learned about the Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands, Kiska and Attu, during WWII. We knew that the construction of the Alaska Highway was done for military purposes, but we didn't know of the very real threat Japan posed to Alaska. Except for this very informative section, this center was similar to others we have visited.

One bright star in Fairbanks is the Museum of the North. Located high on a hill at the University of Alaska campus, it is magnificent sight. The gallery on the first level displays early (late 19th and early 20th century) paintings and photographs by Alaskan artists as well as artists that visited the territory. The second level has a single gallery that is uniquely divided by curved partitions into smaller rooms that make the space feel more intimate bringing one closer to the art. Despite the juxtaposition of modern art of various less traditional media with earlier and more traditional media, there was a feeling of cohesiveness I would not have expected. The visit to The Museum of the North salvaged what would otherwise, for us, have been a waste of time.
Museum of The North

It was the middle of the afternoon when we left Fairbanks so we decided to drive just about 100 miles to Delta Junction since Chicken, our next destination, was another 180 miles over very poor roads. It was cold and raining when we arrived in Delta Junction. It had been getting progressively colder. The two previous mornings it was below 50 degrees inside the trailer. The Tin Wheeler has two sources of heat, an electric heat pump and a propane furnace. The furnace uses a lot of propane so we rarely use it. Most of the campgrounds we stay at do not have electricity and our 1KW generator isn't powerful enough to run the heat pump, so we just use a comforter on the bed and wear our fleece to stay warm. We finally broke down and used the propane furnace though at Delta Junction. After days of rain and cold the trailer was feeling quite damp. With the heat on, we enjoyed a simple dinner of blueberry pancakes with turkey bacon. Our entertainment that night was a game of gin, which Sarah won.

Continuing on the Richardson Highway we once again passed through Tok. Anyone traveling into or out of Alaska by road must pass through here. We had lunch at Fast Eddy's, a rode side restaurant popular with locals and travelers. Sarah had a breaded chicken cutlet burger with fries and I had the halibut burger with onion rings. We both enjoyed our lunch.

Soon after leaving Tok, we turned onto the Taylor Highway toward Chicken. The next two days of driving would be the most difficult of the trip. This mostly unpaved road forced us to go very slowly but it provided grand vistas despite the overcast conditions. Pot holes, washboard sections and extremely soft shoulder were are constant challenge demanding serious concentration by the driver. But, it is the shortest way to Dawson City, Yukon and our chosen route home.

Chicken is not so much of a town, as it is a collection of three businesses. We stopped at the first of the three, Beautiful Downtown Chicken. A large sign offered free camping. It appeared that the large sloping gravel parking lot was the 'campground'. I went into the saloon and the bartender confirmed that it was indeed the place to camp, 'just leave room for others to turn around'. Sarah and I have become fairly proficient at backing Mary Joan into campsites and our skills were put to the test here, with the rain not making our task any easier. It was necessary to use four wheel drive to get the trailer onto the leveling blocks and the electric A-frame jack was pushed to its limit to raise the tongue of the trailer to level us front to back.
Welcome to Chicken

Placing our mark
Say no more

With the driving finished and the Tin Wheeler settled for the evening, Sarah and I returned to the saloon. The owner of Beautiful Downtown Chicken, Susan, was seated on the small porch along with four other people and two dogs. We each ordered a drink inside and joined the others on the porch. Sarah asked if it would be alright to bring Scout. Susan asked if he was friendly, we replied that he was alright as long as other dogs left him alone. Susan said that since he wasn't friendly, don't bring him. We respected her request and, while Susan conversed with two friends on one side of the porch, we engaged the two other men, Susan's employees it turned out, in small talk. It turned out one of them was originally from Milton, MA. The man from Milton had a miniature poodle in his lap. He told us a very sad story about this dog' sister. She was in the yard and was attacked and taken by a Golden Eagle.

Shortly, Susan asked her employees to perform some task. We tried to join the conversation with Susan and her friends, but their conversation became increasingly personal so Sarah and I diverted our attention to the scenery, finished our drinks and explored the gift shop next door. Sarah bought a few things there, then we went into the restaurant/bakery. Susan is well known for her pies, so we bought a large slice of apple/cranberry to have for desert and Sarah bought a cinnamon role for the next day's breakfast. A turkey sausage with onions and peppers plus an ear of sweetcorn for Sarah, a hamburger with the same condiments for me topped off with the delicious pie was our dinner.
Chicken Post Office

The next day broke warm and sunny. Two bus loads of tourists were already milling about when we emerged from the trailer after breakfast. Sarah expressed her disappointment with her stale cinnamon bun, but decided not to complain and chalked it up as a contribution for our 'free' camping.
Down Town Chicken with Mary Joan in the 'campground'

I have a departure checklist. It is a list of all the things to do, such as closing windows and vents, before pulling out of a campground. The list is laminated and each item is checked off using a dry erase marker. Early on in the trip I was very conscientious about using the list. But, after a while it seemed to be unnecessary. I had a routine and rhythm that made sure all was secure. However, this morning I forgot one item that could have proven disastrous. I forgot to raise the A-frame jack. Knowing that this is a common occurrence, I always place a number of leveling blocks on the ground beneath the jack so that if I forget to raise the jack it will not drag on the ground from the moment the truck moves the trailer. I made it about 100 yards until I felt the jack scrape the ground. I stopped the truck and raised the jack. I don't think any of the tour bus people knew what had happened when Sarah and I went back to retrieve our leveling blocks.

The Top of the World Highway out of Chicken was a thrilling experience. This narrow road, in many places one lane, twists and turns, rises and falls all the way to Dawson City. Our CB radio was very helpful on this road. Large double trailer tanker trucks would announce their position on the road in order to plan a passing. Trucks and pilot vehicles for tour buses gave frequent updates of their position along the road. A highlight of this trip was seeing caribou from the Forty Mile Herd. Once numbering more than half a million and reduced to less than 6,000, the herd is now healthy at about 20,000.
One of the Fort Mile Caribou herd
Near the peak of the Top of the World Highway we came to the 'town' of Boundary. We stopped and met Mayor Jim. He has been mayor since he bought the five acres last spring. He and his sons and step sons dredge for gold. But, truth be told, his real gold mine is yet to arrive. He has applied for a liquor license so that he can sell beer and wine at his road side attraction. Nearing our departure from Alaska, we have come to believe that there is some truth in the statement about the people who choose to live here; "we're all here because we're not quite all there". Like most generalizations, there is usually a kernel of truth behind it.
Boundary, Alaska

We arrived at the Yukon River Campground, across the river from Dawson City, in mid-afternoon. After getting backed into a very scenic site on the river, we disconnected the truck from the Tin Wheeler and took the ferry across the river into Dawson City. We were immediately taken by the charm of this town. The unpaved streets, wooden sidewalks, and frontier facades of the buildings made this place look as if time had stood still for a century. We were not the only ones to feel this way. For, the next day we observed the filming of a Canadian television show on the streets in this town. We had lunch and watched from our table as scenes for Murdochs Mystery were being filmed outside our restaurant.
The ferry across the Yukon to Dawson City
Filming of a Murdoch's Mystery episode
Sarah with the leading actor

Later in the afternoon, we tried our hand at panning for gold. After all, gold is what made this town exactly 115 years ago to the date, August 17, 1896, when gold was found in what is now know as Bonanza Creek. We drove to Claim #6, a site owned by the public as a place to pan for gold. We learned that the image of a miner using a pan to search for gold is not how he/she actually accumulated the rare element. Rather, a miner would find an outcropping of bedrock by a stream and take samples of the overlying gravel to pan for gold. If gold was found then machinery was brought in to dredge the soil and adjacent river bed. Millions of tons of gravel were put through the sledges to separate the gold from the rock and mud. Every creek leading into the Yukon near this place was mined leaving huge piles of sterile rock as a legacy and resulting in a muddied Yukon River. Like most of those that came seeking gold, Sarah and I left with an empty pan.
Gold mining is not pretty

From Dawson City we traveled on the Klondike Highway toward Carmacks and then on the Campbell Highway to Faro. The town of Faro is about 7 miles off the highway. It once was the residence for the mining community nearby. But, the mine is closed and more than half of the housing is empty and worn. But, the interpretaion center and adjacent campground made us feel very welcome. For only $12.50 per night we had water, electricity, sanitation and hot showers. Plus, the laundry was very reasonable.

We left Faro about 11 A.M. At the junction to Faro the Campbell Highway changes from paved to gravel and necessarily we had to slow down. Our destination is Watson Lake, but at over 200 miles distant, we cannot make it in one day. The gravel road is narrow and marred with frequent potholes, frost heaves and washboard. We could only make a little over 35 mph in many places. Driving here demands your complete attention and fatigue sets in quickly. With soft shoulders and steep drop offs, there is little room for error. Fortunately, we met only two vehicles in over 100 miles.

We stopped at the Frances Lake Campground for the night. A picture perfect camp site on the lake was open. We backed in and were immediately attacked by a swarm of black flies. I made a fire in hopes of driving them away. But, we were driven into the Tin Wheeler to avoid the persistent flies.

That night it rained. We could here it throughout the night. At times it rained so hard that Sarah thought hail was striking Mary Joan. Sarah's greatest fear is that we would encounter a hail storm that would damage the soft aluminum skin of our land yacht.

The resumption of our travel on the Campbell Highway was made with great trepidation. Our fears were not unwarranted. The rain had reduced the road to pot holes and washboard. The distance to Watson Lake was only 100 miles, but we were forced to reduce speed to 10mph at many places. It took three and a half hours to make Watson Lake despite the well paved section of the last 30 miles.

We visited the Mile Post Forrest at the visitor center upon our arrival. Begun by a worker on the AlCan Highway in 1942 putting up a sign post pointing to his home town, there are now more than 70,000 signs at the visitor center. Sarah and I will add our sign tomorrow. Pictures will follow.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Denali National Park

The High One, Denali. That was our goal after leaving Anchorage. Rumor has is that you can see North America's highest mountain from Anchorage, we are skeptical. But, we will keep an open mind, since the weather has not cooperated. However, despite the claims of a former vice presidential candidate, you certainly cannot see Russia from Wasilla, or any other part of Alaska, for that matter.

Wasilla was a must see town for two reasons. We had to drive through it on our way to Denali and it is the political birthplace of Sarah Palin. The guide book was accurate in its description of Wasilla as a bedroom community for Anchorage as well as a commercial hub for South Central Alaska. The highway passes through the town just two blocks from the city hall. It could be anywhere, strip mall America filled with all the franchises one would expect. Unlike many Alaska towns, we didn't see any still functioning roadhouses from its earlier years. We stopped only long enough to take a picture of Mary Joan in front of the city hall.
From here to the Governor's office then VP candidate, Scary!
On the Parks Road, heading toward Denali, out first stop was at Willow. The campground was large, and was more like a parking lot than a campground. That was alright since it was raining hard and we were just going to spend the night. The next day we made our way to Talkeetna. It was described as a real old fashioned Alaska town. We pulled into RV Camper. The owner, Mark Wildermuth, gave us a warm greeting. Hanging on the wall of the office was an Iditarod number vest. We asked if it was Mark's. Yes, he ran the race in 1995 finishing in 22nd place, not bad for his first attempt. He no longer has a team, but has just acquired a Lapponian Herding Dog. Rika, the Lapponian Herder showed up a few minutes later with his wife Laura and his two children. Rika was high spirited and in the mouthing stage. Mark and his kids knew all the right things to do to train this new member of their family.

Sarah's goal this afternoon, was to find out where she could watch the third game in the series between the Red Sox and the Yankees. The good news was that the restaurant and bar next door, Latitude 62 would have the game on their television.

We walked through the town to the river in hopes of getting a view of Denali. This town is the jumping of place for climbers intent on summiting the mountain. Planes carry them and their gear to a landing strip at about 7,000 feet from where they begin the ascent. Climbing season is from late March until July. The climbers were gone, but the town was filled with tourists that had arrived by motor coach or the Alaska Railway. The scene was not unlike Camden, Maine in mid August. We were glad to be a half mile out of town and even happier when we dined at Latitude 62 with Lisa as our hostess/bartender. Lisa has a great sense of humor, when asked why she chose to live in Talkeetna, she replied 'it has five bars'.

After dinner, but before the 10th inning win by the Sox, Mark joined us. We talked about dogs, mushing, the Iditarod, and life in small town Alaska. He has some pretty strong feelings about the Iditarod and those associated with it. I won't try to relate them here because of my ignorance about this sport. Suffice to say that it involves money and personalities. So, what's new?
Our first view of the Alaska Range

The Mary Joan has reservations for four nights at the Teklaneeka Campground, 29 miles inside Denali National Park for Tuesday night through Friday night. So, we spent Monday night boondocking on a small stretch of the old Parks Highway just south of Cantwell. Boondocking is when you are not in an official campground, but rather, just camping off the main road. This was only our second boondockinng experience. The site was wonderful, adjacent to the river and protected from the main highway by a substantial stand of Apen and Poplar trees to shield us from the noise of the road. We were rewarded with wildlife viewing, as a flock of Dall Sheep were grazing on the mountains just across the river to our west.
Arriving at Denali National Park, we were a little overwhelmed at the rules, regulations, bus shuttles and the schedules. Private vehicles are allowed only on the first 15 miles of the park road. Beyond that, visitors needed to use the park or tour operator buses to gain access to the interior of the park. The exception was for those staying at RV campgrounds beyond the 15 mile point. However, the pass to the RV park was for one transit in and one transit out only. We were not allowed to use our vehicle on the park road once we reached our campground. We could, however, purchase a pass that would allow us to use the park bus service for the length of our stay. At first, this seemed a little controlling. But, the wisdom of this policy became evident on our first foray on the bus.

The park road traverses 91 miles from the visitor center to the former mining center of Kantishna, now a collection of wilderness lodges. It passes through some of the most magnificent scenery I have ever seen that is populated with bear, caribou, wolves, moose Dall sheep and lynx as well as beautiful and sensitive arctic flora. We boarded a bus at our campground at 9:30 AM and headed west. Traveling at less than 30mph we all watched for wildlife. The cry 'STOP' is all that is needed to get the driver, Mike Reilof, to stop the bus and ask where and what we should look for. Mike gave us ample time to watch and photograph whatever wildlife we had come upon. He is also knowledgeable about all the wildlife and how the ecosystem here works.
End of summer dusting

It is also possible to get on and off the bus nearly at will. When the bus took a spur road to Wonder Lake, we got off, picked blueberries and walked until the bus caught up with us where we rejoined the 'main' park road. We were let off the bus one mile from our campground just 10 hours after we boarded. It was an amazing day. We used this technique on our next day's voyage deeper into the park. We rode the bus about 30 miles then walked back 5-6 miles. While walking we got to see some of the smaller mammals and birds as well as a Gray Fox before flagging down a passing bus to return us to our campground.

It would not have been possible for us to make the entire trip on the bus without the help of the volunteer campground host, Beth. She offered to go to our trailer and take Scout out for a walk. She did this for us on two of our three days at the campground. Thanks Beth.
Sarah and Beth

The system of limiting personal vehicle usage increases the chances for wildlife viewing and greatly diminishes the impact on the environment and the cost of maintaining a road in this harsh environment. Impact on the environment and the wildlife is minimal. But, if you want to explore this area on foot, it's yours for the taking. There are no trails in this wilderness, you are free to hike and camp where ever you please. This is another example of a place where our government got it right.
The Park buses
The buses got us very close to the wildlife, a big Grizzly
Uncommon sighting, the lynx

We are in Fairbanks, Alaska and will upload more photos to the album when we get the chance. But, for now the sun shining and dinner awaits.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Anchorage to Seward and the Holbert Glacier

After Sarah's sister, Jennifer, left we had appointments to have the trailer and truck serviced. We noticed that one of the tires on the trailer was wearing more rapidly than it should and the truck kept telling us that it was in need of an oil change despite having done so in Prince George, BC. Also, the bearings and brakes on the trailer needed to be checked.

Six Robblees in Anchorage did a great job. I thought that the abnormal wear on one of the tires was due to either misalignment or even a bent axle. Six Robblees mechanic, Greg, was sure that neither was the case. He found that the nut holding the bearing in place was not tightened enough and allowed the wheel to wobble slightly, hence the abnormal wear.  Wingfoot Commercial Tire, just a couple blocks away, ( had the replacement tire and was able to mount and balance it in no time.

At Six Robblees (, Greg replaced all the bearings, rotated the tires and inspected the brakes. They also had after market tire pressure and temperature sensors. These are standard on most automobiles today, but are not common on travel trailers. I bought the kit that included the valve stems, transmitters and receiver that would allow me to monitor each trailer tire's pressure and temperature. We made an appointment with Wingfoot to install them the next day. Unfortunately, the sensors were made for steel wheels and not aluminum so we could not use them. Despite un-mounting the wheels and tires, removing the valve stems then installing new valve stems, Wingfoot did not charge me for attempting to install the sensors. And Six Robblees willingly accepted the return of the sensors.

We left Anchorage about 1 PM bound for Seward. It began to rain about an hour after we left Anchorage. When we stopped for fuel at Portage a number of Highway Patrol Cars and an ambulance passed towards the direction from which we had just driven. Later, we learned that there was a terrible accident and the Seward Highway was closed for nearly seven hours.

Our arrival in Seward was wet and windy. Despite that, the town appeared quite charming, possibly because it has a substantial recreational boating population. Even before we could see the buildings in town, we could see the masts of sailboats in the harbor. This was particularly poignent for Sarah and I due to the loss of our own boat last year.

The most sailboats we have seen in Alaska

Mile 0 of the Iditarod Trail

Cold and Rain

The town maintains a number of RV parks on the water front. We found our spot just about a half mile south of the marina. With water and electricity for $30/night, we thought this to be quite a bargain. We could have 'dry camped' (no electricity or water) for only $15/night, but with the rain and cold it was nice to be able to run the heater to keep warm and dry.

We awoke to a forecast of clouds and showers becoming steady rain. Despite the forecast, we booked a day cruise with Major Marine Cruise ( to see wildlife and tidal glaciers in the Kenai Fjords National Park.  However, as we left the breakwater and ran down Resurrection Bay, the sky cleared and remained that way for the rest of the day. Everyone on board was astounded by our great luck.
The sky cleared and we saw Bear Glacier

The Holbert Glacier 

The other tour boat gives some perspective of how big this glacier is

The glacier is moving at about 1 foot per day, so it is 'calving' constantly

40 knot wind (see the ice in the water

Huge seracs on top

What a difference 24 hours makes

See the pictures of a large chunk of glacier falling on the Seward page of our photos:

Humpback whale

The captain lead us to view sea lions, puffins, whales common murres, and calving glaciers. On board was a U.S. National Park Service naturalist who provided detailed information about the ecology of this area.

We opted in for the optional buffet of salmon and prime rib. For an additional $19  it was quite a bargain.

Tomorrow we will drive into the park to the tongue of Exit Glacier then leave the Kenai and head for Denali.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal

Sarah's sister, Jennifer, had a late night (early morning) flight out so we decided to make Hope our last tourist stop. Hope is also an end of the road town. Only 15 miles off the Stewart Highway and just a short drive to Anchorage, this was the perfect place to stay on her last night with us.

Hope still retains the feel of the Alaska homesteading days. Rustic log cabins are the predominant structures that are people's home in the 'town'. I can't be sure, but I think that many of the out-houses I saw are still in commission. The town didn't get electricity until about 1965.

Food and supply cache
(Safe from bears and squirrels)

Our first stop in Hope was the Hope and Sunrise Museum. No entry fee, but donations appreciated. This is a must see museum of the Kenai peninsula. This museum chronicles the founding of Hope as well as the devastating earthquake of 1964 that destroyed the town of Sunrise and forced the movement of Hope to higher ground.
Bill showed us around. Here's the truck he used to rebuild the cabins

We stayed at an RV park whose manager told us that we must be cautious because a Black Bear had harassed some people in the campground a few nights earlier. She said that, if it returned, she was going to shoot it. We slept well that night in the Mary Joan and did not hear any gunfire.

When we arrived in Hope it was raining. We had tourist literature about the town and were amused by the name of the coffee wagon parked next to the library; "Grounds for Hope".
Downtown Hope

Grounds For Hope
Being captive due to the rain, we continued on that theme and laughed ourselves silly. Here are some of our "Hope" sayings and services who could use them:
Hopeless                                                        Weight loss Clinic
Hope Floats                                                   Hope Boat Builders
Glimmer of Hope                                           Jewelry Store
Signs of Hope                                                Hope Highway Dept.
Lots of Hope                                                  Hope Realtor
Ray of Hope                                                   Hope Tanning Salon
Hopelessly Lost                                              Hope Wilderness Guides
Hopefully Yours                                              Hope Dating Service
Hopefully Thinking                                           Hope High School
Faith and Charity Church                                 Community church of Hope
Hope Springs Eternal                                      Trampoline and Mattress Supply
Hope for the best                                            Hope high school baseball team's moto
Hope for naught                                              Hope Family Planning Center
Where there's life there's Hope                        Hope Trauma Center
High Hopes                                                     Hope Medical Marijuana Supply Center
Eternal Hope                                                   Hope Funeral Home
Great White Hope                                           Hope Committee, Obama for Presisdent
Fading Hope                                                   Hope Light Dept.
Lost Hope                                                       Hope Alzheimer Clinic
Hope Chest                                                     Hope Breast Augmentation Clinic

Jennifer is back in Oregon and we are to have service for both the trailer and TV

Stay tuned.