Alaska

Oh, Canada: Part Two

The long, light-filled days of early August found us heading south toward the Lower 48 from Alaska.  Our southward journey would take us through the Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta.

Canadian Border heading south from Alaska

Our plan this time was to follow the Alaskan Highway through Whitehorse, take the Cassiar Highway (in lieu of the entire Alaskan Highway) stopping at a Provincial Park to kayak on our way to Stewart/Hyder and then head east stopping in Smithers continuing on to Alberta to visit Jasper and Banff National Parks.  As we had not completed the Canadian portion of our return trip, we posted earlier about Stewart/Hyder as that is a category all by itself!

The Yukon- with its pristine wilderness and nameless mountains.

Prior to arriving at Whitehorse, the Alaskan Highway took us through Haines Junction, an important stop for travelers for its many services (read fuel!). Haines Junction was established as a mountain village in 1942 as an Army barracks for the U. S. Corps of Engineers while building the Alaskan Highway.  Our Lady of the Way Catholic Mission is a local landmark as it has the distinction of being the most photographed church in the Yukon.  Built in 1943 by Father E. Morriset, the first Catholic priest in the area, Father Morriset converted an old quanset hut remaining from the Army’s construction of the highway, into a uniquely beautiful place of worship.

Our Lady of the Way Catholic Mission

One hundred miles south of Haines Junction found us in Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon with its vibrant culture filled history and traditional First Nation Cultural Centre.

Whitehorse Monument overlooking the city

First Nation Cultural Center, Whitehorse, YK

Artist in Residence creating a Totem Pole

John on the banks of the “Great River”, the Yukon

Whitehorse has the distinction of being our first “boondocking” at a Walmart!  There must have been at least 50 rv’s of every size and type the two days we were there. Here is the one that stood out to us as not only being the most unique but having traveled the furthest- it was shipped from Columbia, South America to Houston,TX by its owner and then driven to Whitehorse on their way to explore Canada and Alaska! Previously to this trip, the owner had explored Africa in her RV.

Fellow RV’er with her RV from Columbia, SA

Joy showing how BIG our neighbor’s RV was

Our next stop was Boya Provincial Park on the Cassiar Highway.  Joy got to celebrate her birthday with John kayaking on the stunning, blue lake.

Our View of Boya Lake

Boya Lake Provincial Park at Sunset

Joy enjoying Lake Boya

What a cool way to spend a birthday!

After several fun-filled days at Boya Provincial Park, we wandered to Stewart/Hyder for 3 days about which we have previously blogged. From “Bearville” we stopped over in the charming ski village of Smithers and then traveled on to Jasper and Banff National Parks. Jasper and Banff National Parks are spectacular for their scenery and animals.  Our brief visit only touched the surface.  These Parks are on our “must return” list.  Words cannot describe how exciting it was to be within feet of such wonderful wildlife.

John making friends with an Elk

A Magnificent Elk

Big Horn Sheep surveying his domain

Mountain Goat

Showdown at Jasper National Park: this round goes to the Big Horn Sheep

Big Horn Sheep

“Lake Louise, Banff National Park”

“Lake Louise, Banff National Park”

Celebrating a special Canadian Holiday!

 

 

Categories: Airstream, Alaska, bear viewing, British Columbia, National Park, wildlife, Yukon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bearville aka Stewart-Hyder

If you ever watched “Northern Exposure” on the television, you will have a good idea what Stewart, BC (poputation: 699) and Hyder, AK (population: 100) are like. Located at the head of the Portland Canal on the Alaska-British Columbia border, this twin town offers views of Bear Glacier, Salmon Glacier and the best bear viewing ever at the Fish Creek Wildlife viewing area operated by the U.S. Forest Service . We were able to get a fantastic view of Bear Glacier along Highway 37A; however, due to the dense cloud cover we were not able to see Salmon Glacier from its summit- which, along with the warm welcome by the residents of both towns, gives us added incentive to return!Camp Run-A Muck RV Park was the Silver Manatee’s base camp while staying in Stewart-Hyder and was located only 3 miles from the Wildlife Viewing Area.  Each morning we would get up at 5 a.m. so we would be there for the 6 a.m. opening of the viewing platform.  Along with about 20 other inveterate animal lovers, we stood single file on the platform patiently waiting for the bears.  We were not disappointed.  There in the early morning mist, the Grizzly bears would take their turns feasting on the salmon. One morning we were even treated to viewing two wolves taking their turn fishing.  And, as if to say farewell, a wonderful black bear was on the side of Highway 37-A as we were leaving Stewart-Hyder for Jasper & Banff.

Categories: Airstream, Alaska, British Columbia, travel in the Northwest, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Great View of “The Great One”- Denali: Talkeetna, AK

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The historic town of Talkeetna is nestled at the base of North America’s tallest peak, Mt. McKinley- also known as Denali, meaning “The Great One”. Talkeetna also has an outstanding panoramic view of the Alaska Range that can be enjoyed and photographed from several places as you wander through the town. This fortunate location with its breathtaking views of Denali and the Alaskan Range combined with the colorful, quaint town and the mystique of the mountain climbing community explains its enormous popularity.

Talkeetna is the jumping off point for the majority of climbing expeditions to Denali.  The Denali National Park Rangers present an outstanding program on preparing and climbing Denali.  We were fascinated by the presentation and left in awe of such an undertaking. The ranger related that most expeditions fly to the Kahiltna Glacier at about 7200 ft. to begin their climb to the summit of the South Peak at 20,320 ft.  The climb itself takes approximately 3 weeks and only 2 or 3 days to descend! Each year, 9-12 climbers on average lose their lives on this majestic mountain.  The day of our talk, the rangers aboard a helicopter were rescuing 3 Danish climbers who had become injured from an avalanche.

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Talkeetna has the last flag-stop train in Alaska, called the Hurricane Turn.  This train runs between the Talkeetna depot and Hurricane.  People who live in the Bush, as well as hunters, hikers, fishermen and tourists use this 115 mile train which runs parallel to the Susitna River. Our ride on the Hurricane Turn afforded us the opportunity to meet and to talk with true locals that use this train for their everyday life.  One woman uses the train on week-ends to go to her cabin that has been in her family for many years and after she “jumped” off of the train she was going to hike 4 or 5 miles and then inflate her kayak and go down the river the remaining 5 miles to her cabin!  Helping her with her gear was a man that was her “neighbor”- meaning they would hike the first 5 miles together and then he would split off and hike to his cabin while she kayaked to hers! The train also gave us our best view of Denali as we were blessed with a clear, sunny day. The conductor stopped the train for everyone to get their photos and we were told this was the first day this season that all of Denali was visible and that it only happens about every 3 weeks in the summer; as all of the locals were also taking photos it must have been true.   This was a truly interesting train trip and was a great way to end our stay in Talkeetna.

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Categories: Airstream, Alaska, hiking, National Park | 2 Comments

Anchorage, AK: Alaska Native Art

The Alaska Native Medical Center’s Auxiliary Heritage Collection is the story of life.  This permanent art collection housed in Anchorage conveys the cultural and artistic diversity of the Alaska Natives. It is a stunning model of joining art and architecture to create a place of healing. To borrow from the Center’s Craft Shop brochure, “This is a collection of Native art that grew from the heart.  From the hearts of the artists who produced it and those of the people who recognized the importance of preserving it.”

Because there is such a wide range of mediums and subjects in the Heritage Collection, we thought a slide show of some of the works would best serve to impart an understanding of the quality and variety of Alaska Native art and craft. We are grateful to the artists and to the volunteers for not only sharing their story of life in Alaska but also for touching our hearts.

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Categories: Alaska, art, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula

Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula

Our “bearfooting” continued in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula- home to Cooper Landing, Seward, Homer, Soldotna and Kenai which make up 45% of the state’s population.  This south central, Gulf coast peninsula is comprised of high mountains and broad river valleys. The climate is maritime- rain & fog with mild temperature fluctuations. This variable terrain and climate provide an outstanding habitat for a wide assortment of plants and animals.  Our digital cameras really got a workout!

Cooper Landing is a thickly forested wilderness community on the startling blue Kenai River.  We were fortunate and camped at the Kenai Princess Campground Imagewhich provided us with all the services of their Lodge!  We were truly pampered during our stay there.  Hiking above the river was a feast for the eyes as the spruce, birch, alder and aspen densely populate the river’s banks along with wildflowers.  Surrounding the Lodge were gorgeous plantings of wildflowers and annuals. Training our binoculars to the mountains revealed Dall sheep and Mountain goats- although truth be told, they appeared as moving white dots, but we were assured by the staff that is what we were viewing.Image

Seward is framed by the Kenai Mountains on one side and Resurrection Bay on the other making it a picturesque seaport. Our not to miss experiences in Seward were the Exit Glacier & the Alaska Sea Life Center.Image

Named by explorers because of its suitable “exit” from the Harding Ice Fields, Exit Glacier is a fabulous example of how our climate has changed. Driving up to Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park, signs are posted to show how far the glacier has retreated in the last few hundred years. The most drastic retreat has been in the last 75 years.  The rangers at this wonderful park were very informative and maintain an amazing 1.5 mile uphill, trail to the very edge of the glacier. Image

Something wonderful did come out of the Valdez oil spill- the Alaska Sea Life Center, a $56 million marine life and rehabilitation center that is the only cold- water marine science facility in the western hemisphere. Many of their resident animals are temporary, as the Center rescues abandoned, sick or injured animals from all over the coast of Alaska. Large aquariums display the many aquatic cold water habitants of Alaska’s waters, and a 21-foot deep exhibit with tall windows allows us humans to marvel at the speed and grace of puffins and other seabirds as well as rehabilitating harbor seals as they dive and glide underwater.Image

On our departure from Seward, we got our opportunity to see some Trumpeter Swans again.  This time we stopped and were able to capture their beauty and grace. John was even able to get a photo of their mating dance!Image

Homer

Homer is affectionately known as, “the quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.”  And, although they had enough pubs & fishing boats to live up to that name, it is also an artists’ colony with 8 galleries. While there, we dined at a delightful, organic restaurant, the Sourdough Express Restaurant & Bakery.  Not only were the seafood cakes and Kodiak brownies delicious, the owner and staff were so welcoming that they made our dinner there memorable.Image

Exploring the overlook above the Kachemak Bay in Homer, we discovered the Wynn Nature Center, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the Bay’s natural habitat and to educating people to appreciate the native plants and wildlife.  Comprised of about 26 acres, we spent a wonderful couple of hours wandering their trails, marveling at the preserved beauty of this coastal regionImage.

Homer was also home to the largest number of seaplanes we have seen in Alaska.  On the clearest day, we ventured down to the lake to watch them take off and land.  One friendly pilot let Joy take his picture with his pride and joy.Image

While in Homer, we found ourselves camping next to a couple from Port Charlotte, FL. -talk about a small world. Karl & Annette were enjoying their second trip to Alaska in an RV and generously shared some great tips and information with us.Image

Soldotna & Kenai

On the western Kenai Peninsula, Soldotna & Kenai stretch along the Sterling Highway and the Kenai River.  There are numerous unobstructed views of Mount Redoubt across the Cook Inlet. While we couldn’t see Russia from this coast, we did get to see a few of the historic buildings left by the Russians!Image

These towns get extremely busy during fishing season. We found ourselves here at the beginning of the Red Salmon run.  Dipping for “Reds” with huge nets is an activity limited to Alaskan residents.  This is considered “subsistence fishing” vs “recreational fishing.”  It was quite the spectacle as we watched the residents dip netting off of the beach while the drift netters and the recreational boaters floated by at the mouth of the Kenai all vying for the salmon. ImageImage

One gregarious Alaskan, Carolyn, told us how the state government uses sonar to record the number of Reds coming up the river- the day before they recorded over 250,000!  She also shared the card each resident is required to turn in recording their catch at the end of the Run. The head of the household is permitted to keep 25 fish and 10 additional fish for each dependent.  The Run varies day to day and usually lasts between 7 to 10 days

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As a welcome gift to Soldotna, we were graciously given two canned jars of red salmon from Karen Dorcas, a local resident artist, who Joy became acquainted with while they were both participating in an online jewelry making class!  Thanks to Karen’s local knowledge, we were able to easily access the beaches, parks, fishing walks, historical sites and even the local Cariboo herd in Kenai. Thank you, Karen!ImageImageImage

                                          

Categories: Airstream, Alaska, art, hiking, National Park, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bearfooting in Alaska

“Bearfooting” is an action word in Alaska that describes having a good time! We knew we were bearfooting when back at our campsite we were discussing the next day’s adventure and had to consult our phone to know what day it was.  Alaska is truly magical.

Bearfooting in Alaska!

Valdez

Crossing the border from Canada into East Alaska, we felt we had finally arrived when we hit Tok (rhymes with smoke), a town 92 miles from the border.  It is generally the first town and the last town travelers from the Lower 48 travel through on a land tour.  After a stop at the visitor center in Tok, we traveled southwest to Valdez.

Keystone Canyon-Valdez, AK

Valdez is nicknamed the “Little Switzerland” of Alaska due to its average annual snowfall of 25 ft. per winter!  On Thompson Pass, the route into Valdez, the average snowfall is over 50 ft. per year; which is why when you drive to Valdez in the middle of the summer you still see snowfields in the Chugach Mountains.

Chugach Mountains from Valdez, AK

Valdez is not only the snowiest area of the state, but also the most glaciated area of Alaska.  Heading towards the town from Thompson Pass through the Keystone Canyon, we stopped at the Worthington Glacier for a firsthand look at alpine Alaska as well as the two most notable waterfalls, The Bride’s Veil and the Horse’s Tail.  In all, the canyon is decorated with 20 waterfalls.

Worthington Glacier Valdez, AK

John at Horse Tail Falls, Valdez Ak

Each summer, Pink Salmon return to Solomon Gulch and you can see them splashing around the shoreline, especially along Allison Point, a great place to go salmon fishing.  John tried his hand at fishing off of the rocky point with many local anglers and hooked one, but the salmon won that day.

Allison Pt. Salmon Fishing

Gucci getting ready for fishing!

At the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, thousands of spawning Pink salmon swim into the hatchery ladders to ultimately enter the pools to hatch eggs.  Then, the young salmon, known as smelt, are released into the Sound to start the cycle all over again.

Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery

When the tide became too high to fish, we were treated to the sight of  eagles and sea lions fishing in the Sound.

Sea Lion Fishing at Allison Point

Exploring historic downtown Valdez uncovered two fascinating Natural History museums showcasing the history of the town, primarily its role during the Gold Rush, the Alaskan pipeline, the Valdez Oil Spill and the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. Over 30 townspeople lost their lives on the docks of the Small Boat Harbor  and the original town of Valdez was destroyed.  A “new” Valdez was built 4 miles away on firmer ground.

Historic Valdez, AK

Joy at the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum

Boat that survived the Good Friday Earthquake

Valdez is a friendly, relaxed fishing town with a beautiful harbor on Prince William Sound, ice blue glaciers, magnificent snow laden mountains, lush foliage and wonderful wildlife.

Small Boat Harbor, Valdez, AK

Valdez, AK

Palmer-Wasilla

Matanuska Valley

Leaving Valdez on the Richardson Highway enroute to the twin cities of Palmer and Wasilla, you pass through Glennallen, called “the Hub of Alaska”- where the Glenn and Richardson highways meet.  Not much more than a large gas station with a country store, the bustling atmosphere is “airport like” with the constant stream of RV’ers coming and going to refuel and to replenish their stores.

Long Lake Vista

As you drive the Glenn Highway, at the headwaters of the Matanuska River is the Matanuska Glacier; this glacier is prominently visible from the Glenn Highway as it is 4 miles wide at its terminus and extends for miles back into the Chugach Mountains.  Following the grand views of the Matanuska River and the mountains, you come upon a narrow lake called Long Lake, just east of Palmer and another popular boating and fishing spot.

Finger Lake: Palmer, AK

The Glenn Highway then leads through the town of Palmer, which was started in the 30’s as a farming project during the Great Depression.  Agriculture is the leading influence in Palmer and many of the early pioneer families still live in the area. We were fortunate to camp right beside Finger Lake and were able to watch the sea planes land and take off in true Alaskan style.

Wasilla City Hall

After touring Wasilla, we visited the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wasilla; what a fascinating museum with its historical displays, videos and bronze tributes to the 1100 mile race.  Joy even let John talk her into going for a cart ride with an Iditarod musher and dog team!

Iditarod Trail Headquarters, Wasilla, AK

Iditarod Headquarters, Wasilla, AK

Sculpture Garden, Iditarod Headquarters

100 ft. from the Finish Line

The Next Generation

Categories: Airstream, Alaska, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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