National Park

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

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

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

America’s First National Park: Yellowstone

View of Yellowstone Lake

Geysers, waterfalls and snow are the images embedded in our minds after our stay at Yellowstone National Park.  The day we drove from Grand Teton NP to Yellowstone was crisp and clear with a beautiful blue sky.  Upon entering Yellowstone, we began to see drifts of snow and we could not resist stopping and getting photographs.  It was truly a Merry May!

John at South Entrance to Yellowstone

Waterfall near the South Entrance to Yellowstone

Lake Lewis- still frozen!

Yellowstone Vista on way to Fishing Bridge

After registering at Fishing Bridge RV Park, we took a bike ride to explore the Fishing Bridge area.  The next morning, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.  The weather cleared near noon so we set off for Old Faithful.

Old Faithful Geyser

Arriving at Old Faithful was truly exciting; within 5 minutes of our arrival Old Faithful erupted and with it brought back those long ago grade school memories of learning about Old Faithful from a textbook.  We then proceeded into the Old Faithful Inn to soak up its “parkitecture” as they call it.  After touring the Inn, we sat down in the Dining Room for a gourmet lunch in front of their huge hearth.  Following lunch, we made our way back to the viewing area to watch Old Faithful erupt for a second time.  Later, as we walked back to the parking lot, we discovered a bison directly in front of our truck!

Old Faithful Inn

That evening and the following five days, we experienced snow falling for the first time in a number of years.  Despite the snowy conditions, there was a period in each day that we were able to venture out to experience the wonders of this park.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Yellowstone River running through the Grand Canyon of YNP

Joy at Grand Canyon Overlook

John, Lower Falls of Grand Canyon YNP

Lower Falls

Hydrothermals at West Thumb, YNP

Upper Falls, Grand Canyon of YNP

Elk enjoying West Thumb

Iconic Yellow Schoolbus at the Lake Hotel

View of Yellowstone Lake

Categories: Airstream, National Park, Yellowstone National Park | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Grand Teton National Park

Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park

We decided to “break camp” at Antelope Island the night before our departure for Grand Teton National Park in anticipation of a longer drive than we generally like to travel – about 300 miles or roughly six hours. All that was left to do in the morning was to unplug, do a few other small chores and head the Silver Manatee toward the causeway. Fortunately, we did not wait until the morning for our preparations as during the night, a Pacific storm front moved in bringing a good deal of rain and heavy wind. At sundown there were two tent campers within sight of us who were not there in the morning. Departing from Antelope, John dodged bolts of lightning as we were on our way in a rain/hail storm which made so much noise hitting the truck we could hardly hear one another. The wind, however, was not as severe as during the night. Visibility was just adequate, the wind was tolerable, and so our journey continued.

Once we reached Idaho, we were out of the storm front and were able to truly experience Idaho’s landscape which neither of us had ever seen.  Idaho appeared to be quite a productive state, at least from an agricultural point of view. From our car window, the green rolling countryside showed evidence of a wide variety of crops and the farmlands appeared healthy and prosperous. Previously, we have driven through some areas of the country which are mile after mile of corn or scrub land which gets tiresome, but Idaho had variety which made it interesting to try to guess what they were growing. Since we were pressed for time, John thought it best to pass on the Potato Museum.

Just before we came to the Wyoming state line, we found ourselves in Idaho Falls where we decided to take a lunch break. We found a local “hot spot”- the North Highway Café, established in 1934. We are confident that some of the people, waiters and alike, are the same as when the café first opened. This café would remind you of Wheelers in Arcadia. The place was full; everyone knew one another and cordially looked after the new strangers in town. We ordered the special of the day – Shrimpkin. Before you read further, define Shrimpkin. Time is up. This is a combination of shrimp and chicken! After our enjoyable lunch break, we headed out of Idaho Falls along Highway 26 where the mountains around Targhee started reaching for the sky and you wished you could linger and try your hand at fly fishing along the crystal clear Snake River.

Later that afternoon, we arrived in Jackson, Wyoming, often called Jackson Hole, with its singular Teton peaks, the teenagers of the Rockies. We skied Jackson Hole a number of years ago and left with respect for the steep rugged terrain. This mountain range goes from flat plains straight up to the most jagged show covered mountain tops we have seen thus far.

As we proceeded through Jackson, the road skirted the National Elk Refuge along the way to Colter Bay Campground where we would stay for 3 nights. Some of our highlights of Grand Teton Nation Park were: the Chapel of the Transfiguration, built in 1925, which frames one of the most famous views of the Tetons; Oxbow Bend Turnout with its willow thickets and the stunning backdrop of Mount Moran; Jenny Lake Overlook with its view of Cascade Canyon, the trail along Lake Jenny, String Lake and Lake Leigh and the Bridger-Teton National Forest access road where we had our first sighting of a Grizzly.

Canadian Geese on Lake Jackson

Grizzly, Grand Teton National Park

Categories: Airstream, National Park, wildlife | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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