Thursday, June 30, 2016

Today is my birthday, not just a normal birthday, but my 70th birthday. Surely there must be an error in the calendar because I can't possibly be that old. It is not unusual for me to celebrate birthdays away from home because June is prime RV travel time. This is the farthest I have been from home in quite a few years. While in the Air Force I did celebrate birthdays halfway around the world in South East Asia. That reminds me that the only other time I have been to Alaska was flying from Oakland California to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Looking at a globe you will see that the shortest distance from California to the Philippines is a route that includes Anchorage Alaska and Tokyo Japan. We landed at Anchorage late on December 31st and a few hours later departed for Tokyo. I remember this because we missed New Years that year and took off in one year and landed in the next. The pilot came on over the intercom as we crossed the International Date Line and said Happy New Year everyone. During my time in the Air Force I made several flights between South East Asia and the United States, sometimes landing before I took off.

The last two days we have been exploring Wasilla and the surrounding area. Some of you may recognize Wasilla as the home of Sara Palin, the 2008 Vice-Presidential nominee running with John McCain. We did not run into Sara but did talk to a lady who knows her and counts her as a customer. While eating lunch at a local family restaurant we saw a sign that read "Alaska Cheesecake Company". Cheesecake is one of my weaknesses so we made our way to the store to buy a cheesecake for my birthday. We ended up purchasing a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. It was fantastic and one of the best cheesecakes I have every had the pleasure of eating. No, we didn't eat it all and still have some left. But not for long! The lady who owned the store and made the cheesecakes was quite a talker and we spent about 15 minutes in conversation with her. She recommended we drive up to Hatcher Pass which turned out to be a great suggestion.

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

Looking down into Mat-Su Valley near Hatcher Pass

The old mine near Hatcher Pass

Independence Mine Visitor Center

We have separated from the rest of the group until July 5th. We have an appointment for Buffy and Bo at an Anchorage Petsmart this weekend and will be spending July 1st thru the 4th in Anchorage. The rest of the group wanted to take in the July 4th celebration in Seward on the Kenai peninsula. That is a popular venue on the 4th so they made their way down there on Monday to assure they could find campsites.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

On Monday we all departed the two separate campgrounds we were staying at near the Denali National Park and continued our journey south on the George Parks Highway. Five motorhomes cannot always find available accommodations at the same campground. We stopped for the night at Montana Creek just south of the Telkeetna Spur road. Once we were all settled at our respective campsites we piled into two of the five vehicles and made our way up that spur to the small town of Telkeetna. Like Nenana, Telkeetna was born as a railroad town in the early nineteen hundreds.

Before there was a highway from Anchorage to Fairbanks there was a railroad. The railroad still operates today and doubles as a passenger and freight carrier. The majority of the passengers are tourist visiting Alaska. Many arrive at Anchorage by plane or cruise line and have the option of taking the train up to Denali or Fairbanks. The train also stops in Telkeetna filling the streets with customers for all the gift shops and restaurants. Another part of the local economy is sight seeing flights out of the local airport to Denali and the National Park and fishing. We noticed signs in the area indicating the king salmon were running. Telkeetna is also a staging area for climbing expeditions to the summit of Denali.

Train leaving the terminal in Denali National Park

We did not take any sight seeing flights or join a climbing expedition and were quite content to stick to the gift shops and restaurants. Below is a photo of Pam and I, Rich and Joan, and Tom and Paula about to dine. Van, Craig, and Angie decided on one of the other restaurants. Notice that the guys all have the same hat on. While we were at the village area outside of the Denali National Park we all purchased matching hats.

Dinning in Telkeetna

The guys with matching hats

I suggested we could all purchase matching T-shirts but was quickly informed that my "man card" was in jeopardy.

The girls borrow our hats for a photo

We were all wandering up and down the streets of Telkeetna and while outside Nagley's Store were approached by a lady who asked to do an interview. Salena was a reporter and stated she would like to interview us for a story that would appear in a Pittsburgh newspaper and National Geographic. She ask us a few general questions such as how we knew each other and what we were doing in Alaska. Nothing may come of it but she did get our phone numbers and sent us all a text with her phone number. A few photos were taken with all the guys sitting on the bench in front of Nagley's Store and one with our wife's sitting on our laps. After the interview I ask her why she picked us and her answer was that she had been watching us and we all seemed so happy.

Nagley's Store

Tell us how you really feel Rich

I am not sure if Rich is actually asking for ice cream in the photo above but do remember he mentioned ice cream on more than one occasion. Turns out that Nagley's Store sold marvelous ice cream.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Saturday we got up early and left the campground at 7:00 am to guarantee our arrival at the Wilderness Access Center by 7:30. We had tickets for the 8:00 am Eielson shuttle bus into Denali National Park and were required to be there 30 minutes prior. The park service only allows private vehicles to travel to mile 15 of the park road. To experience most of the animals and the breath taking vistas, one must ride a park bus to the interior of the park. We choose the 8 hour Eielson Shuttle taking passengers 66 miles into the park and back. Fortunately the campground we are staying at provides a dog walking service so Buffy and Bo were treated to two walks during our long absence.

The weather is a big factor in what one sees during a visit to Denali and often is wet and cloudy. We were blessed with a marvelous day with abundant sunshine and comfortable temperatures. We are told that only 30 percent of visitors to the park actually see the peaks of Denali. Mt McKinley has been re-named back to the original name given to the mountain by the local natives, Denali. Denali is the highest mountain in North America at over 20,000 feet. More often than not the mountain is hidden by cloud cover. On the day of our visit the view of Denali was blocked by clouds the majority of the time but she did make a grand appearance towards the end of our bus ride.

Denali in the early part of the day

Denali with both peaks visible

All in all we had a wonderful day in the Denali National Park and saw some animals. Pictures never convey the full impact of actually viewing scenery in person. The drive deep into the park was well worth the time and the panoramic majesty of the experience is something we will cherish for a long time.

One of the many scenes

Bob and Pam

Anna our bus driver

Cast of one of the many Dinosaur footprints in the park

 Grizzly Bear

Caribou on the snow

Bull Moose

Mother Moose running away with her calf following

Mother Ptarmigan

Baby Ptarmigan trying to keep up with mother

We also saw a dall sheep but it was so far away that it is difficult to see in the photo. For that reason we have not posted the photo.

On Friday we left Fairbanks for Denali National Park. The newest and best road in Alaska is the George Parks Highway connecting Fairbanks with Anchorage. The Parks Highway runs directly through the Denali National Park and was a pleasant drive. Below is a short video of us driving a section of the highway. 

Driving George Parks Highway

On the way to Denali we stopped at the small town of Nenana located where the Nenana River enters the Tanana River. The main attraction in Nenana is the Nenana Ice Classic. This has nothing to do with athletes competing on ice and is a lottery based on guessing when the ice on the Tanana River will break up. Entrants buy a ticket and pick a date and time to the closest minute when the ice will break up. A large tripod is placed on the frozen river attached to a clock. The winning tickets are those that predict when the tripod moves enough to stop the clock.

Nenana Visitor Center

In the photo above notice the tripod at the left of the visitor center. This tripod or one like it is placed on the frozen river for the Ice Classic Lottery.

The invasion of Nenana

There was barely room for all five motorhomes in our caravan to park in Nenana. The photo above shows three of the five motorhomes in our caravan parked along the main street of Nenana. The other two motorhomes are on the same side of the street behind the first three. It was necessary to space out to prevent blocking a side street.

Not a lot to see in Nenana besides the visitor center and the railroad museum. We took advantage of the stop to eat lunch in our motorhomes. The only place in Nenana to purchase a meal was the senior center. After lunch we continued on down to Denali and our campground. Once settled at our campsite we drove to the park to find the Wilderness Access Center and pick up our tickets for the bus ride into Denali National Park on Saturday morning.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We have been in Fairbanks Alaska for two days now. Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska and has many of the major merchants we have become accustom to. Of course everyone has made trips to Walmart, Fred Meyer, and Sams Club. Yesterday the girls went to the North Pole, an actual town and suburb of Fairbanks, to take in the Christmas store and see the raindeers. The town theme is Christmas and the streets have names like Santa Clause Lane, etc. The guys were not drawn to that venue and decided to visit an old car museum in Fairbanks.

The car museum had 87 rare cars and the newest was from the 1930's. There were many cars we had never heard of and almost all of them were restored to a like new condition. All but two actually ran and the museum periodically took them out for a drive. One of the rare cars was a 1917 Owen Magnetic which amazingly was a predecessor to the modern hybrid car. Not only was the transmission continuously variable, akin to a CVT transmission, the Owen had regenerative brakes and would charge the batteries while braking. Granted this was not automatic and the driver had to move a lever to the regenerative position. Early cars had straight tooth gears which made changing gears difficult. The Owen was cherished by those that could afford it because it was quite and there were no gears to worry about. Unfortunately the high cost of this automobile led to its demise. Googling this car did not find much information but did reveal that Jay Leno has one in his garage.

1917 Owen Magnetic

Another interesting car was what one might call an early "muscle car", a 1917 Pierce-Arrow. This car had an inline 6 with 825 cubic inches.

1917 Pierce-Arrow

We were not aware that early cars had V-16 engines in them but it turns out there was a cylinder war between a few of the manufactures started by the 1932 Cadillac pictured below. Cadillac introduced the worlds first V-16 engine in this car. It is a real beauty and I would gladly trade all three of my vehicles for this one. Imagine going for a Sunday ride in that baby.

1932 Cadillac V-16

Up close of V-16

Information plaque

My new ride - they wouldn't let me sit in the Cadillac

Sunday, June 19, 2016

There are few things to do in Tok but we enjoyed the downtime. The big attraction in Tok seems to be Fast Eddy's Restaurant and we must admit the food and service were outstanding. Two items on the breakfast menu are homemade blueberry pancakes and giant cinnamon buns. The small gold mining community of Chicken is another attraction. Chicken is a 160 mile round trip drive from Tok so the trip there and back is an all day affair. We started the day with breakfast at Fast Eddy's and then traveled up the Taylor Highway to Chicken. The term highway should be considered merely a road that varies from patched tar and gravel with numerous frost heaves, to loose gravel and dirt. It seems that description fits most of the so called highways in the Yukon and Alaska.

We discovered that Chicken has very little to offer and is one of those places we would skip if we ever do this trip again. We will say it was the first time in our lives that we were in a store that sold gold mining equipment. The mail in Chicken is delivered by plane twice a week and below is a photo of the US Post Office. We found the Saloon and Mercantile to be interesting because the bar tender-cashier was located between the two in the liquor store. She would dart back and forth between the three locations serving the customers. See the photo.

Bob and Pam in front of local attraction

Shopping in Chicken

Tom and Van at the bar in Chicken

The post office in Chicken

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We drove up the Haines Highway on Tuesday intersecting the Alaska Highway in Haines Junction. The weather was clear when we left Haines but quickly turned rainy and cloudy as we started our climb over the mountains. That was unfortunate because the scenery would have been magnificent. We stopped at a service station in Haines Junction and topped off the diesel tank and then continued on to Congdon Creek. We camped for the night at a Yukon Government campground in Congdon Creek. The weather was wet, cold, and windy. We got the impression that the view of the lake was beautiful but the weather was not favorable.

Wednesday morning we all headed out for the first major Alaskan town on the Alaska Highway, Tok. We had been told that the stretch of road between Haines Junction and Tok was the worst on the Alaska Highway. That turned out to be a fact. For that reason we were not sure if we would make it all the way to Tok on Wednesday. Often the top speed was 20 MPH. We did not find any favorable places to spend the night so just kept going until we reached Tok. After all, there is about 22 hours of day light at this time of year. They say it gets dark about 2 am but we have not witnessed the darkness. We go to bed in daylight and awake in daylight.

We found a campground in Tok and decided to stay for four nights to give us some needed down time. Our vehicles and motorhomes were dirty beyond recognition and there were some repairs that needed to be taken care of. The journey to Tok brought us back to the US and another boarder crossing. Notice in the photo below that the boarder between Canada and Alaska is cleared of trees and growth.

We are back in Alaska

Walking just a few feet we are in the Yukon again

The border between the US and Canada

Pam sitting in the Yukon and Bob in Alaska

We are a little behind on our blog because internet service has been 3G at the best since Skagway. Once a person gets used to 4G, reverting back to anything slower is like living in the Dark Ages. The population of Skagway is about half that of Haines but 4G service was prevalent. My guess is that can be attributed to the fact that so many cruise ships dock there.

After the exciting ferry ride described in our previous post, we found the Hitch Up RV Park in Haines and got settled in. Amazingly we were able to get our Direct TV system homed in on the satellites through a break in the trees. Dawson Creek was the last time we were able to see the satellites due to their low location on the horizon. We quickly regretted the news update from the lower 48.

The main things to see in Haines are, if you are lucky and we weren't, the bears feeding on salmon near the Chilkoot Lake, the glacier and fish packing facility at Chilkat Lake, and Fort Seward. Most of us probably forgot what we learned in school about the purchase of Alaska. Here is a cut and paste from a history website.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward signs a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.”
Of course we now know that Secretary Seward's actions have provided the US with many natural resources like oil and gold. A little additional reading reveals that the British were interested in Alaska and after the US purchase quickly finalized the territory of British Columbia dashing the US government's hope of acquiring direct overland access to Alaska. Secretary Seward had nothing to do with the creation of Fort Seward in Haines. Here is a quote from Wikipedia.
 It was the last of a series of 11 military posts established in Alaska during the gold rush era, and was Alaska's only military facility between 1925 and 1940. It provided a policing presence for miners moving into the gold mining areas in the Alaskan interior, and a military presence during negotiations over the nearby international border with Canada. The fort is named for William H. Seward, the United States Secretary of State who oversaw the Alaska purchase.
Officer's Quarters at Fort Seward

Enlisted Barracks

Originally there were two enlisted barracks but one was destroyed in a fire.
Chilkoot Lake

View of Ft Seward on left and Haines on right

On our last full day at Haines our friends decided to ride the ferry over to Skagway for a walking tour of the town. The ferry they were on was larger than the one we put our car and motorhome on. Take a close look at the photo below and notice the absence of the bow doors. Sure wish that was the one available when we made the trip.
Ferry entering the channel to Skagway

Glacier at Chilkat Lake

On Tuesday, June 14, we left Haines and headed up the Haines Highway intersecting back with the Alaska Highway.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pam and I decided to travel down the South Klondike Highway to Skagway and visit the area for a few days. Our friends opted to travel down the Haines Highway and skip the ferry ride in a large RV. Retrospect indicates they were wiser than us. Check out some of the photos below. We all traveled back up the Haines Highway to pick up the Alaska Highway and continue our journey.

We can now truly say we have checked the ferry box on our bucket list. Not sure we want to do that again. According to our neighbors from the campground, who also loaded their RV on the ferry, we had the worst situation for ferrying a large RV. They are from the Seattle area and use ferries all the time. Seems most of the ferries there have doors on each end making it a straight shot to drive on and drive off. Not so with the one we took from Skagway to Haines. I was sitting in the motorhome and Pam in our car waiting to be signaled to move onto the ferry. Most of the cars were loaded first and while I watch I am thinking, "glad we don't have to back on". Wrong! All of a sudden they signal a truck and trailer to back on. Oh no!
Waiting for the ferry

Our car going on the ferry

Our neighbor backing on

Me going down the ramp

Pam was already on the ferry and had one of our cameras taking a few photos of me boarding. Above you see me going down the ramp. The two ladies had me go very slow at the end of the ramp just in case the back of the motorhome contacted the ramp. They were prepared with boards to drive the rear wheels up on if that happened.

Short video going down the ramp

Not much room to spare

They had to adjust the ramp

Still my heart

Video of what I see as we turn the corner

Almost there

All packed in

Leaving Skagway behind

My friends cheer our arrival

As you maneuver onto the ferry you quickly learn to watch and listen to the person directing you and forget any thoughts you have about being your own pilot. The ferry employees who load and unload the ferries are very good at their job and we are thankful for that. We have been taught to "never say never" so it is possible that we will use a ferry for the RV again in the future. Lets just say we are not motivated in that direction.